Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book Review: The Awakening

I was given the first book in this series, My Name Is John, by my neighbor, Thom Mower [1], when I received my Eagle Scout award. I don't remember much about it except that it's about John the Beloved, one of the disciples of Jesus Christ. According to both ancient and modern revelations [2][3] John the Beloved will not taste of death until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. These books are about his efforts to spread the Gospel on the earth in the modern age.

This book was a disappointment on many levels:

The author can't help getting on his soapbox. For example he interprets of the Word of Wisdom as advocating vegetarianism instead of restraint.[4] But he's not even content to stop there. He goes on to declare that anyone who hunts wild animals will be barred from entering the Celestial Kingdom.

The characters are one-dimensional. Or maybe one-half-dimensional. The "bad" characters are badish and the grumpy characters are grumpyish. And all the "good" characters seem to be best characterized as "seriously, so blessed". When they experience change, it's never as a result of personal growth, so it comes across as fatuous, rather than inspiring. It felt like their description changed rather than their personality. This is abetted by the flat dialogue. The characters usually talk like the author rather than like individuals. And once the author has used up his repertoire of buzz words (gentle, pure, noble, etc.), the characters are then usually overwhelmed with emotions that they can't find words for. But really, it's not John or Hyrum or Lacey that can't find the words—it's Thomas Enos that doesn't know what to say.[5]

My least favorite character was actually John. John is essentially an immortal action hero—a walking deus ex machina. Someone needs to be saved, he can do it fearlessly and without getting hurt. Someone needs to be converted? He can do it by fixing their roof and cheerfully touching them on the shoulder. An ecological disaster needs to be averted? He can do it with a quick prayer.[6] His actions are always effortless and come off without a hitch, which means there's nothing useful that I can learn from him. Furthermore, certain characteristics of John are incongruous with a man of God who has been permitted to live for nearly 2000 years, e.g. arachnophobia. He also experiences bodily aches and pains, which is contrary to 3 Ne. 28:9, 38. He's also distracted by romantic love, which I doubt the real John is.

The copy editing wasn't very good, either. There was a little girl character whose name switched from Melinda to Melissa and back again—sometimes in the same paragraph! And consider this line: "Dropping to his knees in prayer, he knew immediately what the need was, and pulling his clothes on, sprinted for the house." That's incredible. If he weren't a transfigured being, I'd never believe that anyone could get dressed and sprint out of the house all while still in the middle of kneeling down to pray. A few plot points also strained credulity. For example, at one point a character is floating on a raft out in Puget Sound only to be menaced by a killer whale. Sure something like that could happen, but it isn't likely.[7] Also, I was surprised to find several instances of profanity in a book intended for an LDS audience.

My verdict: Even though I believe in many of the principles mentioned by Thomas Eno, he manages to present them in such a way that they come across as sappy or ridiculous, rather than faith-affirming or inspiring.[8] A book has to be pretty bad for me to not keep it, once I've bought it. And even that that's usually reserved for offensive content (excessive profanity, violence, or sexuality). But I won't be keeping this one. Too often while reading it I found myself becoming angry, either with the deficiency of the writing or with the erroneous ideals taught or implied by the author. So this one went back to DI, along with its predecessor, My Name Is John.


[1] He was also my sometime boss in high school. I helped him tear down the remnants of his mink farm and replace it with rows of peach trees. He has since passed away.

[2] Ancient: John 21:20–23.
      Modern: 3 Ne. 28:6–6; D&C 7:1–6.

[3] For those who are unsure why Latter-day Saints (Mormons) believe we have more Scripture which complements the Bible, like the Book of Mormon, I recommend you visit here and here, where you can learn more about LDS beliefs concerning sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you have more questions, ask and maybe I'll do a full post on the topic.

[4] John A. Widtsoe, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said, "The Word of Wisdom is not a system of vegetarianism. Clearly, meat is permitted. Naturally, that includes animal products, less subject than meat to putrefactive and other disturbances, such as eggs, milk, and cheese. These products cannot be excluded simply because they are not mentioned specifically. By that token most of our foodstuffs could not be eaten." (Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, vol. 3, 2nd ed. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1951, pp. 156–57.) See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Word of Wisdom#Meat.

[5] In the Turkey City Lexicon, this is called a dischism. See http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/turkey-city-lexicon-a-primer-for-sf-workshops/.

[6] And the way it is accomplished is simply ludicrous. I admit the possibility that the miracles of God can sometimes defy explanation. But Thomas Eno does give just such an explanation, but one that comes out as a bunch of gobbledygook.

[7] I was reminded of the ridiculous cougar that scared Kim Bauer in Season 2 of 24. And the resolution of the Killer Whale scene overshot its intention to be miraculous and strayed deep into the realms of ludicrous.

[8] I'm especially concerned about the false ideas someone could arrive at about Latter-day Saints if they read this book without any prior knowledge. If you're a non-LDS reader and you've come across this page, I recommend you learn about the Church here and here, rather than by reading this book.

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