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Reviewed by:
  • Immortal for Quite Some Time by Scott Abbott
  • Johnny Townsend
Scott Abbott, Immortal for Quite Some Time. Salt Lake City: U of Utah P, 2016. 257 pp. Paper, $24.95; e-book, $20.

Scott Abbott starts Immortal for Quite Some Time by insisting that it is not a memoir, but it certainly reads like one. Most of the book consists of a series of snippets from his life, snapshots laid end to end. Many are no more than a paragraph, often two or three to a page. These unconnected memories eventually coalesce into an overall image of an unhappy man: unhappy with his Mormon religion, unhappy with his Mormon family, and often unhappy with his partially Mormon self.

The self-reflection is built around trying to understand the life of his gay brother, John, and his death from AIDS. But for the longest time the task feels almost abstract. The author admits that his wife and others have accused him of "emotional distance," and I think the reader feels it frequently. The account is more often interesting than moving. There are exceptions, of course, such as the long but equally sparse list of items found in John's apartment after his death:

Two cooking pots.

A frying pan.

Two forks.

Three spoons.

Three wooden-handled cooking knives.


Another feature of the narrative that tries to bring us close to John consists of the letters he wrote to his family while serving as a missionary in Italy. These are more frustrating than moving, however, as they clearly indicate the unsolvable dilemma in which the young man's been placed. As the book proceeds, Abbott begins to reflect more and more on his deceased brother and the ways they both veered away from Mormon orthodoxy. He develops an imaginary critic who calls him out on the implications of his reflections, an effective technique to keep the reader focused. He also tells a story that profoundly reveals the LDS Church's inability to deal [End Page 469] with "awkward" truths: the curator for the Church Museum of Art and History wants to display the blueprints for the Salt Lake temple but can only receive permission if he promises to white out the toilets and plumbing (88).

The further we read, the less abstract and more revelatory Abbott's memories become. He makes himself vulnerable to the reader both in terms of his own sexuality and his particular personality flaws. The openness feels brave and honest, even if we suspect he hasn't told us everything we might want to know.

We watch as Abbott is forced to resign his teaching position at Brigham Young University, as he ends his marriage, as he leaves the LDS Church, as he becomes an advocate for gay rights far too late to help his brother. There is much sadness in these pages, sadness that is perhaps inevitable for anyone who thinks deeply. And while there isn't exactly resolution at the end, there is a bittersweet acceptance that helps us as readers accept our own limitations, both familial and philosophical, as long as we make the effort to live an honest life.

Johnny Townsend
Independent Scholar


Additional Information

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pp. 469-470
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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