Leaving the Saints

leaving-the-saintsMartha Beck

I’m not sure really what to classify this book as. After deciding to have a Downs Syndrome baby, Beck describes her decision to leave grad school and Harvard to return to her hometown of Provo Utah and her Mormon family. Through a winding path she describes the friendliness and welcoming attitude of Mormon neighbors, her own bizarre family and childhood, Mormon customs and beliefs, working at Brigham Young University and her own supposedly repressed memories of abuse by her father.

While Beck’s beliefs about the abuse can be left to the reader, her total lifestyle description of life in a Mormon town is fascinating. Life is both welcoming and open and yet completely repressive. Rules are set for members for every aspect of their lives and everyone is watching everyone else to make sure they toe the line. Beck recounts various anecdotes of repression at the college, competition among mothers to be the very best homemakers, strange Mormon customs and rituals and other aspects of life in Utah.

While her story is often grim and even scary, Beck’s upbeat personality shines through. She tells stories of making her pre-kindergarten teacher cry after she decorated her gingerbread house to look like King Hrothgar’s Hall, replete with black licorice Grendel on the roof and food coloring entrails decorating the frosted snow. In other places, she points out some of the ludicrous interpretations of the Prophet Smith’s writings and desperate attempts to make them seem vaguely lucid. All in all a fascinating read, no matter where you come down on Beck’s memories. I guess only time and Oprah will tell.

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