By Ally Condie
Penguin/Random House, $18.99
Not many writers explode onto the scene the way Utah's Ally Condie did with her Matched trilogy, and you learn a lot about a writer by how she follows up a phenomenon.
There's a quiet confidence to Atlantia that initially makes it a bit hard to embrace, as Condie challenges readers to stick with its slow build. The post-apocalyptic premise finds a colony of humans surviving in an underwater facility, dependent for their survival Below on those who volunteer to raise food and provide supplies from the pollution-ravaged world Above. Rio Conwy, who believes that her destiny lies Above, instead finds her twin sister volunteering for that duty, sending Rio on a journey into the mysterious history of her own family, and the Divide that created Atlantia.
Once again, Condie brings tremendous depth to her world-building, finding terrific details in a culture created both to help people survive, and to perhaps keep them under control. Some of the elements may feel familiar—the archetypal hero quest, the tentative teen romance—yet Condie never feels the need to inflate the narrative with artificial action, allowing Rio's explorations to drive the story. The result may not be a propulsive page-turner, but it's something perhaps rarer in the world of young-adult fiction: a genre work that feels more like a contemporary character study, following a young woman navigating the tricky business of finding her own voice.
Author reading/signing at the Provo Library at Academy Square, 550 N. University Avenue, Provo, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 7 p.m., free
The Lost Book of Mormon: A Journey Through the Mythic Lands of Nephi, Zarahemla, & Kansas City, Missouri
By Avi Steinberg
Plenty of things have been said about The Book of Mormon over the past 180 years, but "it's a good read" generally hasn't been among them; sentiments along the lines of Mark Twain's infamous "chloroform in print" dismissal have been more common. And that's part of what makes Avi Steinberg's exploration of the text so compelling: He's fascinated with it as a work of literature.
The bulk of The Lost Book of Mormon follows Steinberg on physical journeys to key sites in the Book of Mormon story: a solo trek to Jerusalem, on a Mormon-led tour to presumed sites in Mesoamerica, to Hill Cumorah in New York for the annual pageant. Yet it's also about one writer trying to understand as an actual book a text that's treated as holy scripture—a lover of literature reveling in the power of stories to take over the lives of their creators, as well as those who embrace those stories.
It's a lively enough read simply in its anecdotal tales of Steinberg's travels, from his interactions with the boisterous pilgrims on his visit to Guatemala, to observing the dedicated performers turning The Book of Mormon into a theatrical production. Yet it's also a wonderfully thoughtful exploration of how The Book of Mormon itself is obsessed with the idea of stories being preserved to be passed on, and what that might tell us about Joseph Smith not just as a prophet, but as a writer. There something almost holy about the way Steinberg celebrates the humanity revealed by this book.
By Chuck Palahniuk
Penguin/Random House, $25.95
Perhaps it's unfair and oversimplified, yet here it is: The satire in Chuck Palahniuk's work doesn't seem all that edgy once you've grown up a little.
The Fight Club author has made his bones on transgressive premises and boundary-pushing details, yet there's often pretty rudimentary material stashed beneath all the sex and violence. In Beautiful You, he launches right in with what appears to be a public rape before telling the story of Penny Harrigan, a plain young woman who comes under the sway of billionaire tycoon Linus Maxwell, used as a guinea pig for his planned line of sex toys for women. And as the "Beautiful You" products become an overnight sensation, Penny begins to realize that Maxwell may have darker intentions than cornering the masturbation market.
There's a certain perverse fascination to gender-flipping the idea of a nation of onanistic sex zombies, and exploring what might happen to a society in which women are just as easily manipulated by pleasure as men. But Palahniuk never seems genuinely interested in digging into the allegorical ramifications of his concept, spending infinitely more time on the details of various anatomical manipulations than on the world spawned by them. That might make Beautiful You enjoyable, but in a fairly shallow, guilty way—and that's more sad than it is ironic.
Author reading at University of Utah Union, 200 S. Central Campus Drive, Oct. 29, 8 p.m., $30 includes admission and signed book