A DATE WITH DANGER
By Kari Iroz
256 pp. Covenant Communications, Inc. $15.99
PRIDE AND POLITICS
By Britanny Larsen
272 pp. Covenant Communication, Inc. $16.99
As I was adding finishing touches to my upcoming LDS romance novel, I picked up a couple of Deseret Book titles, curious to see if the stock Mormon rom-com formula had changed. You know the story:
Good Mormon boy (or girl) falls for a non/inactive member because she’s so refreshingly different. Then, after a series of mishaps, misunderstandings, and one chaste kiss, the girl converts/reactivates, the boy pops the question, and they live happily ever after, even though she’s now become the sort of girl that bored the boy in the first place.
Think Shirley Sealy’s Beyond This Moment or Jack Weyland’s Charly or Kurt Hale’s film, The Singles Ward.
I’m happy to report that, based on my two chosen titles, the LDS formula may be on its way out, replaced by the more enduring influence of Regency England.
In A Date With Danger, a Utah Valley college coed, Jacklyn (Jack) Wyatt, teams up with FBI Special Agent Damon Wade to catch a stalker on “Eter-knitty Online Dating,” an LDS forum Jack recently joined. Since it’s unclear which of her contacts might be the culprit, she is ordered to date each of the suspects, while Damon monitors her encounters via hidden microphone.
—Yes, I know. But this is romantic comedy not true crime, and it’s hardly the silliest example of the genre. Think Pretty Woman.
Moreover, with her numerous references to Mr. Darcy, the author is really channeling Jane Austen. Predictable, yes, but Iroz’s writing is solid. Her heroine, Jack, has a strong, witty voice, adorably ditzy in the manner of a good Mormon girl who is more intelligent than she lets on.
Jack’s love interest, the FBI agent, is also a well-drawn character. He’s a lapsed Mormon who makes it clear from the start he’s not coming back to church. Not because he no longer believes. (This is Deseret Book, after all.) But also not because of a petty complaint or a desire to sin. The actual reason is a serious one neither Jack nor the reader can fault.
The two fall in love and then have a falling out over the Church (of course). Then, at the urging of her believing Mormon father, Jack goes back to him even though he’s inactive because—now get this—she loves him! (Cough.) Yes, I just said that. And at the end of the book he’s still inactive and they’re still together! (More coughing.) Has Deseret Book gone astray?
Maybe. Maybe not. They still haven’t lost that chaste kiss requirement. The “lovers” in A Date with Danger have two kissing scenes, one at the end, and another that Jack describes as neither “demanding or even passionate.” Sigh. If it were my book the ex-Mormon would be a much better kisser. Still, I can’t help but admire the real life conclusion.
“It’s not that I’d lost faith in my religion. More that I’d lost faith in the people who practiced it. Or claimed to,” says Summer Knight, author Brittany Larsen’s Elizabeth Bennet clone in Pride and Politics.
Feisty and intelligent, Summer naturally catches the eye of snooty Ivy League Mormon, Benson Hardy. But he isn’t tempted, telling his friend Chase, “First of all, I think you’ve got dibs on the best-looking girl here. Second, she doesn’t go to church. Third, mind your own business.”
Why mind his own business? Because Summer is something far worse than inactive. She’s a Democrat. And not just any Democrat. She’s the daughter of the Democratic senator from Arizona, the arch rival of Benson’s uncle who is soon to become the Republican Party’s nominee for president.
Not long after this initial encounter, Summer obediently returns to church. But that’s not to say the novel follows the old formula. Unlike a more conventional LDS plot that exists within a sheltered Mormon cocoon, Pride and Politics is set in the real world with people who are comfortable in it. We’re definitely not in Happy Valley anymore.
Larsen sticks closely to the story, featuring all of Austen’s beloved characters in interesting—and not necessarily wholesome—manifestations. My favorite is the Lydia Bennet character, Lindsay, who enters the plot when she loses her ecclesiastical endorsement for BYU-Idaho after a public episode of under-aged drinking. There are all the same scenes, only through an LDS lens in Southern California and Washington D.C., with a mock British accent thrown in here, riding breeches and scones thrown in there.
Imagine the ball at Netherfield transported to the Newport Beach LDS Stake Center. Mr. Collins, who needs to marry before he can begin his job as an LDS seminary teacher, foppishly begs Elizabeth Bennet for her hand. She manages to escape, only to be confronted by Darcy who woos her with awkward conversation and caffeine-free Coke. Until they are interrupted by a scantily clad Lydia who jiggles her bodacious cleavage under Darcy’s disapproving gaze. —Now that’s a scene worthy of Amy Heckerling.
Speaking of Lydia’s cleavage, there’s a healthy dose of sexual tension in this book. Enough to shock/titillate a number of Mormon sisters, confound some of the Brethren, and make a 19th century literary realist roll her eyes.
Describing their first kiss, Summer says, “The heat of his (Benson’s) lips made me forget about the cold … my only thought was, More, please.” And then later, when they were dancing, “the synapses in my body were tingling from his touch”
Of course it all ends with a delicious snogging scene for Benson and Summer. The Mormon Republican is elected president. (I’m guessing that was a concession to Deseret Book.) And Lindsay is home from her slutty affair in Mexico, repentant and reformed for life. (Nah—she’s barely warming up.)
Perhaps Deseret Book will favor us with more worldly Mormon romances? I hope so.
For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?