What would you do to get into BYU? Donna Banta’s “The Girls from Fourth Ward”
What if your bishop is a petty tyrant who loves nothing so much as the power he has over other people’s lives. You can’t simply switch to another ward. So, well… Somebody has to off him. But who?
That’s the premise of Donna Banta’s delightfully entertaining and totally Mormon murder mystery The Girls from Fourth Ward.
As I’ve often said, I think the best art achieves universality by rendering with great fidelity a specific milieu. In this case, the story of people lashing out secretly against an authority whom they can’t confront openly could be set in almost any human society, yet the story is enriched by a number of Mormon-specific components. The divorced mom who has to attend humiliating church dances as a condition of receiving church welfare to feed her family, for example, or the central importance of attending BYU in order to land the right kind of man — and the fact that you can’t attend BYU without getting your bishop’s signature on the ecclesiastical endorsement form.
Banta has quoted Wallace Stegner as saying, It is almost impossible to write fiction about the Mormons, for the reasons that Mormon institutions and Mormon society are so peculiar that they call for constant explanation — but Banta did a good job of keeping the explanation from interrupting the story. There’s some direct explanation of Mormon peculiarities as the crusty cop investigating the case has to figure out how Mormons tick. (Does there exist a Mormon story or article for a non-Mormon audience that fails to explain that a Stake is like a Diocese?) But that’s only a part of the story. The scenes from the Mormon characters’ perspective are clear without being peppered with explanatory asides.
I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a fun read. And don’t forget that the story of the fourth ward continues on Banta’s blog Ward Gossip.