Anger Mismanaged 

The Open Curtain never turns an ex-Mormon author’s frustration into insight.

When Brian Evenson began writing The Open Curtain, he was a Mormon. By the time he finished the book, he was not. Leaving the religion one grew up in can be fertile ground for a novelist to explore. He can examine the tension between losing one’s community and being freed from the restrictions of that community. The author can delve into the different stages of transformation that take place as one loses faith while at the same time finding inner strength.

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The possibilities are rich, but Evenson doesn’t seem interested in them. In terms of the stages people go through when they face a major change in life, he seems to be stuck on anger'which is a long way from understanding. Rants make for interesting literature when the emotion leads to insight, but Evenson'a prolific and decorated author who heads Brown University’s creative writing program'never quite reaches that level in The Open Curtain.

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Evenson first ran into problems with the church as a BYU professor when he published a book his superiors deemed too violent. He ended up voluntarily leaving both BYU and the LDS faith. His purpose in this book seems to be to throw the accusation of violence right back at the church as if to ask, “Who are you calling violent?nn

In Evenson’s afterword to the book'an afterword to a novel is seldom a good sign, since it usually means the author wasn’t able to convey his message through the actual story'he says that the main theme he was trying to explore was the link between Mormonism and violence established in the church’s early days and still carried through until today. That hardly seems like earth-shattering news. The church grew up in a time when it was both the victim and perpetrator of violence, and even after Mormons worked things out with the rest of society, there have always been those on the fringe of the faith who use Mormon doctrine, or semi-doctrine, to find excuses to commit vicious acts in the name of God. In this regard, the history of the LDS faith is certainly not unique.

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Evenson tries to show Mormonism’s dark underbelly through the character of Rudd, a Provo teenager whose mental health is decaying as he becomes obsessed with a 100-year-old murder case involving Brigham Young’s grandson, William Hooper Young. The case involved the often unacknowledged doctrine of “blood atonement,” which states that some sins are so heinous that not even the blood of Christ can cleanse them, thus requiring the blood of the sinner be spilled to make things right with God.

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Evenson uses Rudd’s mental illness to remind the reader repeatedly'to the point of irritation'that religious faith can be viewed as a form of insanity that leads people to do strange things. He has also given Rudd the convenient problem of having holes in his memory, which allows Evenson to place Rudd in strange situations without having to go to the trouble of explaining how or why he is there.

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Rudd ends up sharing a home with an unconvincing character named Lyndi, a BYU student who invites Rudd to come live with her despite having every reason to know he was involved in the gruesome murders of the rest of her family. When she notices Rudd is descending into madness, she decides this must be the guy for her and marries him in the LDS Temple (is the dating scene at the Y really that grim?). That sets up the closing third of the book, in which Rudd has trouble distinguishing between himself and William Hooper Young on the way to a very predictable conclusion.

nn

Evenson makes reference in his afterword to Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven as a book that explores the link between Mormonism and violence. It’s a good recommendation'and makes for a better read on the subject than The Open Curtain. THE OPEN CURTAIN

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Brian Evenson
nCoffee House Press
n218 pages
n$14.95 paperback

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