Book Review: Bound on Earth

February 22, 2008 | 10 comments
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Angela Hallstrom’s debut novel, Bound on Earth, is worth reading.

I know as much about defining a good novel as Potter Stewart knew about defining pornography: I can’t do it but I know it when I see it. And I see it in Hallstrom’s book. The characters are real. The situations are real. The emotions are real. She has done a better job of creating “real” than most authors I have read (notice I didn’t say “most LDS authors”). She gets us into the minds of a five year old, a middle-aged man, a young zealot, and many more characters in only a few paragraphs. And she gets it right. The story of the Palmer family–normal middle-class Mormons–emerges through chapters told from the points of view of different players. They seem real, and I liked them. There are also many great observations here about Mormon culture–including the killer line that “till death do you part” is “what Mormon girls hear when they fail.”

Which is not to say that the book is perfect: the last scene reminds me of everything that I don’t like about LDS fiction as Hallstrom gives in to the saccharine send-off. Also, it reads as if it were a collection of pre-existing essays that she [barely] strung together. (I’m not sure whether this is in fact the case–but since various chapters won awards as independent works it may have been–I’m just noting that the chapters feel only loosely connected.)

But . . . but . . . compared to my other forays into LDS fiction (and I skim a lot of review copies that don’t end up getting reviewed because I’m queasy and weary after five pages), this is a gem.

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10 Responses to Book Review: Bound on Earth

  1. Matt W. on February 22, 2008 at 9:14 am

    Since the only LDS fiction I’ve read is Lund’s “The Alliance” (which I liked in that 80s mad max tribute sort of way)(oh and I’ve never read anything else Lund wrote) and Mike Allred’s Golden Plates, I’m not sure this is a good or bad review.

    Oh and are they essays or short stories strung together? I’m not sure I could get through a fictional essay…

  2. Kathryn Lynard Soper on February 22, 2008 at 11:26 am

    This is a novel-in-stories. And this is a good review. Thanks, Julie!

    Interview with the author at A Motley Vision, 2.07.08
    http://www.motleyvision.com/

    Review from Levi Peterson here: http://www.angelahallstrom.com/bound_on_earth

  3. Naismith on February 22, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    Julie, I bought this some weeks ago after hearing rave reviews, because I try to support LDS artists who produce quality work.

    But I don’t know when I’ll have time to read it. So the question is, how appropriate for my teenagers is this, or should I really read it myself first?

  4. Ivan Wolfe on February 22, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    She has done a better job of creating “real” than most authors I have read (notice I didn’t say “most LDS authors”).

    That is an excellent point. I find that most complaints about LDS authors are the same complaints I have about many “mainstream” authors. I’ve read many a book and seen many a movie that had a “saccharine send-off” of an ending that seemed out of place or otherwise made the reading experience lesser.

    Thanks for the review. I wish I had world enough and time to read all the good books I read about.

  5. RoAnn on February 22, 2008 at 9:12 pm

    Julie, I have read the book, and thought it was outstanding. I agree with everything you said about it except that the ending is a “saccharine send-off.” Maybe it’s because I am an old grandmother, but I felt that Hallstrom captured beautifully how I think I would feel and react in a similar situation.

    To me, the ending of Bound on Earth was as authentic as the rest of the book.

    All too often, IMO, authors of “literary” fiction seem to write endings that are ambiguous, if not actually depressing–perhaps in order to have them regarded as sufficiently “realistic”. Hallstrom resisted that tendancy; and I found her ending inspiring as well as realistic, because it remained true to the ultimately hopeful LDS worldview.

  6. annegb on February 23, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    I’m going to order it right now.

  7. Mellifera on February 23, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    So I’ll rot in a hot place before turning into a whiny feminist, but was the “to death do you part being what Mormon girls hear when they fail” supposed to be ironic? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure Mormon boys aren’t supposed to hear it either….

  8. Kathryn Lynard Soper on February 23, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    Naismith, if this book were a movie it would be PG13–not because of sex or violence or profanity, but for mature themes. Teens who can handle topics like adultery, pregnancy out of wedlock, and mental illness would do fine with the subject matter, but even so, I don’t think they would enjoy the book. It’s just not written for a YA audience. I hope you get a chance to read it!

    RoAnn, I feel the same way you do about the ending. It is sentimental compared to the other chapters, but still well-written, and I’d come to care enough about this family that I was glad to have them all together in a happy setting at the end.

    Mellifera, that particular chapter has a female narrator, so the wording reflects her personal experience–she’s referring to herself as the Mormon girl.

  9. Deborah on February 24, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    Naismith: I’ll respectfully disagree with Kathy. I hungered for non-schmaltz Mormon lit as a teen — for families that reflected my complex family. So I shunned “Charlie” and picked up “Refuge” and “Sideways to the Sun” and “All Gods Critters Got a Place in the Choir.” Some of the sibling subplots deal very much with teen dynamics in a family — the good girl, the rebel, the baby, the difficulty of any of those labels. I currently teach juniors and seniors, and I know several of them would really enjoy this book.

  10. Kathryn Lynard Soper on February 24, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    That’s the kind of disagreeing I like to hear. ;)

    Good point, Deborah–the book may indeed appeal to mature-minded teens, esp. those who love character-driven stories.