I’ve been a Donna Banta fan since 2010, when I discovered her blog “Ward Gossip.” Oh my god! This woman is The Onion of Mormonism, I thought, as I instantly recognized Banta’s fictional ward as a mostly-accurate reflection of my own Mormon experience, with just the right amount of exaggeration in just the right places to make the truth very apparent (and funny!).
In her latest book, Mormon Erotica, Banta’s penchant for satire is masterfully woven into a quirky and loveable cast of Mormon characters, who run the range of orthodoxy from the ultra-faithful to those who have left the Church. Yet, even the most outlandish characters are only slight exaggerations of most of the rank-and-file faithful, and are representative of enough actual Mormons that I’ve known to not feel like caricatures.
The story follows Jim Maxwell, an affable forty-something divorced dad living in California’s Bay Area, as he navigates parenting, friendship and family, his love life, and his faith as a Mormon who has concluded that he believes in the Gospel, but is agnostic about marriage. Much to his sister Kellie’s dismay, Jim spends more time “[sitting] around Starbucks drinking hot chocolate with lesbians” than he does hunting for a faithful Mormon wife. (Kellie has some of the most deliciously hilarious lines of dialogue in the book, one of my favorites being her lament, “You can’t find a decent woman at Starbucks.”)
Everything changes for Jim when he bumps into an old college flame at a wedding reception. Sadie Gordon has left the Church and makes her living writing PG-13ish fiction, deemed porn by Jim’s bishop and his neurotic ex-wife. Though the interim years have led Jim and Sadie to different conclusions about the Church, they discover that the flame they had for each other in college is still burning. But for love to win the day, Jim and Sadie must navigate their differences, as well as weathering the opinions, and intrusions, of family and friends, all while Jim does his best show up as a father for a whip-smart teenage daughter with some secrets of her own.
I deeply appreciated that every character was respected, and represented as a whole and multi-faceted human being. Banta avoids the Mormon tendency to view issues and people as black or white, and navigates all the messy shades in between with compassion and humor.
Mormon Erotica is a quick read. It is funny, and the container of humor tempers some deeply poignant reflections on a universally human dilemma that is more important now than ever: How do we live with, and love, all of the people in our lives through the full range of both our commonalities and our differences?
Leah Elliott is a writer, poet, teacher, and journeyer living in North Carolina. You can find poetry, social media links and other good stuff at her website.