One size does not fit all: Johnny Townsend’s “Marginal Mormons”
Big, bright smiles and perfectly-matched Sunday outfits as a row of beautiful children pile out of their mini-van — followed by the proud mom and dad — on their way to perform a string ensemble at the front of the chapel. Every Mormon can aspire to have a family like that, but not everyone can achieve it. And while the photogenic, coiffed, and modestly-yet-attractively attired set may be the face of Mormonism, they’re not the only denizens of Mormondom.
In his book Marginal Mormons, Johnny Townsend puts the focus on the fringes of the Mormon congregation — on the people squeezing themselves into Mormonism, even when it doesn’t fit, sometimes eventually leaving Mormonism behind them.
Johnny Townsend tells the story of a woman who is confrontational rather than demure — and who prefers adventure over motherhood to top it off. He tells about a man who’d like to lead, but is more interested in reforestation than in climbing the corporate ladder, and of a woman whose moral compass points primarily towards ecology and conservation of water. And he tells of gay people who need to learn to love themselves and to feel they are loved by God. These characters might be ordinary without the Mormon framework to turn them into misfits, and therein lies the story.
One that I found most poignant was the tale of a man who sets off on an LDS singles cruise — in hopes of finding an eternal companion — after his wife left him. He’s a guy who’d rather relax with a good book than deal with stressful social situations that make him feel increasingly repulsive and worthless. And all of stories in this collection are thought-provoking as well as touching; sometimes heart-rending.
Marginal Mormons is an excellent collection of short stories. It’s a good choice for a book to grab with your mug of warm soup during the winter months ahead — whether you’re on the fringes of Mormonism yourself or just curious about the lives of the Mormons you won’t see in the commercials for Mormonism.