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Reviews 83 The complaint heard for years when Utah writers got together was that mainstream publishers wouldn’t take “Mormon writing” seriously. Of course, “Mormon writing”too often meant writing that was theologically correct: good books too often bearing the flaw of imposed doctrine—so that when the final turn came, the author was too willing to leap to faith in ways unearned by the narrative. Now something else is happening as Mormons are appearing in books that are gaining wider audiences. Franklin Fisher’s Bones, Judith Freeman’s The Chinchilla Farm, and Walter Kirn’s My Hard Bargain all take tough, human, realistic looks at Mormons. But it is Levi Peterson who is writing of that rare place: Mormon Utah. In his new collection of stories, Nightsoil, Peterson shows us an earthy, untutored world where people are people first and Mormons sometime after that. This is the best writing about rural Utah since Stegner’s Recapitulation. Peterson’s characters are full of questions and he’s a better writer than to give them pat or easy answers. In the most poignant story in the book, “A Wayne County Ro­ mance,”the “bulky and bald”rancher Wallace has a midlife crisis. He yearns for the exotic and elegant—and what he has is Wayne County. It’s the day Wallace decides to leave the place forever, a day laden with the uneasy and complex compromises of literature. Every story in the book centers on the romantic and mundane problem of living a good life. In “The Third Nephite,”Otis Wadby changes his ways entirely because of a visitation. But, of course, it is a Levi Peterson visitation and thereby all atangle in sexuality and faith. (It becomes clear that Mr. Peterson has been called irreverent a time or two; it is also clear he can be very funny.) The town he gives us in “The Newsboy,” is a sweet village on the day World War II ends, a microcosm evocative of all youth, all beginnings. Nightsoil (a rougher title than this book deserves—the title of the last story, a tale of a good-hearted backslider) bears the special touch of Levi Peterson; it is a book in which he shows how it is possible to take an honest look at real people who also happen to be Mormons as they confront big questions of marriage, self, faith, and career. RON CARLSON Arizona State University Karankawa County: Short Storiesfrom a Comer of Texas. By Neal Morgan. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1990. 141 pages, $16.95.) Like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, Neal Morgan’s Karankawa County is found on no map. Yet we all know it is, for most all the Southeast Texas small town characters become real in our imaginations in this brief collection of eight short stories. Morgan is an old-fashioned raconteur. 84 Western American Literature In the second story, “War Hoss Kelly and the Brahma Bull,”Old Rip and his football-star grandson, W. H., try to hold off the bank’s repossessing Old Rip’s ranch. Hauling a bull, a horse, and two dogs to sell in Beaumont, Old Rip hits a bus and the startled animals wind up in the shiny lobby of the Great Coastal Bank where they relieve themselves. The artful comic scenes recall those in Elmer Kelton’s The Good Old Boys or Winston Estes’s A Streetful ofPeople. In ‘Joe Willie’s Problem,” the title character’s presence causes machines to malfunc­ tion, providing funny criticism of technological “progress,”especially when Joe Willie takes on the polluting Tex-Eco-Safe Chemical Company. “The Karankawa Rodeo”is less successful, but “Waiting for ’57”is a well-crafted satire on football-fan boosterism and racial bigotry. “The Click” is an elementary school principal’sversion of “Take ThisJob and Shove It,”“Aboutjimmy Gene” poignantly focuses on a girl—her dad wanted a boy—for whom football leads to murder and suicide, and the closing “The Waxahachie Coke Bottle,”inferior to the rest, describes a teacher’s curious death. The best story is the opening “Maud and Mahatma.” Maud, a whore who “remained a closet school teacher,” runs a tavern in Janus Point...


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pp. 83-84
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