Friday, July 24, 2009

Exmormon by C.L. Hanson


Exmormon by C.L. Hanson captures the experience of losing one's faith and finding one's self in exchange. Through the eyes of seven narrators and a wide cast of supporting characters, Hanson takes her readers through the typical and not-so-typical processes of growing up in the Mormon church, leaving the church, and figuring out where to go from there. The novel is split into nine parts--each of which serves as a novella on its own--plus an interlude, the titles of which represent archetypal aspects of the Mormon experience, such as "Youth Conference," "Saturday's Warrior," "Brigham Young University," and "Temple Wedding." Together these parts make up a sort of parallel to the Mormon experience, highlighting the points of deviation from the norm as each of the characters weaves in and out of Mormondom.

Hanson provides a character guide to help keep all the various characters from the different storylines straight, and you may find yourself flipping back to the guide now and then since there are a number of characters to keep track of. The payoff for this work comes, though, about halfway through the novel, when the different characters and storylines begin to converge and cross over. It's exciting to see characters from earlier parts of the book show up again, and to catch up with them as if seeing an old friend after a few years have passed. When a main character from one story becomes a secondary character in another story (and vice versa), the reader has the advantage of seeing significance in little comments and exchanges that the characters themselves don't see. The enjoyment of this omniscient viewpoint becomes a part of the narration itself in the final novella, humorously narrated by Elohim, who watches in amusement as the stories of his less faithful children unfold, and in the process ties up the threads of various storylines for the reader.

The magical moment of the book for me was the point when one of the main characters, Lynn, comes to an epiphany and realizes she no longer believes in the church she was raised in:
With this thought, I began to feel light and excited. I caught myself running. I had a tremendous sensation of stepping out into the sunlight to see that there's a whole world out there after having lived my life in a tiny, dark cellar. I felt free. I was free of the weight of petty, pointless rules and of trying to fit myself into a worldview and culture that were too small and limited to hold me.
I doubt this experience is unique to Exmormons--I suspect many people going through a major shift of paradigm have a similar feeling of sudden weightlessness. But I believe this is something many Exmormons have experienced, and I know it rings true to my own experience. One of the many great things about fiction is this ability to recreate sensations that are at once familiar because one has been there and fresh because they are now seen through new eyes.

Exmormon is serialized online, accompanied by delightful illustrations, here. You can purchase a paper copy here or here. Also, watch for new print editions and a Kindle edition this fall.

3 comments:

Brinestone said...

I'm starting to wonder if I actually believe all of it, and rather than feeling light and free, I'm feeling terrified, almost as if my whole world would revolt against me if I "came out of the closet." The family I was raised in would be VERY disappointed in me (they're all ubermormons). And for some reason, I'd feel heartbroken if my children weren't raised in the church. Why is that?

Mr. Fob said...

For me, that feeling of terror came and went while I was questioning the church, and eventually gave way to the light and free feeling when I finally made a decision and acted on it. It's a scary thing to think that something you've built your life around might not be true. And it's hard to imagine how your life could be anything other than what you'd always envisioned it being, until you get out of that frame of reference and realize how many other options there are. And by "you" I mean "me," because I don't honestly pretend that I can speak for anyone's experience but my own. I hope you ("you" now meaning "you") find a place you're comfortable with, wherever it may be.

M. Arnold said...

Brinestone,
I've been there. I eventually came to realize that I didn't want my daughter to know the limitations that were placed on me, just because I was a girl. She now (at 15)has more self-confidence and poise than I ever had. She has never been made to feel inferior because of her gender.
And then there is my son. He will never be the type of guy I dated when I was mormon. He is kind and gentle. All the girls love him, because he has learned to treat them as equals. Of course with the respect of a southern gentleman, who opens doors for all women, young and old.
Give yourself a chance to raise your kids. Don't let the people who populate the mormon church do it for you. Teach them to love and respect all people regardless of tradition.(that's how we have explained alot of our friends differences to the kids) You have it in you.
MArnold