ORSON SCOTT CARD. A Woman of Destiny. New York: Berkly Books, 1984.
DONALD R. MARSHALL. Zinnie Stokes, Zinnie Stokes. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984.
DOUGLAS H. THAYER. Summer Fire. Midvale, Utah: Orion Books, 1983.
After thirty years in the doldrums, the novel on Mormon themes has found new life recently, with several titles published each year. Many of the new Mormon novels, however, are only superficially Mormon, being merely adaptations for LDS audiences of mass market fiction formulas. Serious Mormon fiction writers have tended to concentrate on the short story, which has lent itself to some significant experimentation, and for which Dialogue, Sunstone, BYU Studies, and even, on occasion, the Church magazines have provided an outlet. Two of the writers under review, Donald Marshall and Douglas Thayer, have established reputations primarily as writers of Mormon regional short stories. Zinnie Stokes, Zinnie Stokes and Summer Fire are their first published novels. Orson Scott Card has achieved his most notable success in the field of science fiction. Though he has written plays on Mormon themes, A Woman of Destiny is his first Mormon novel and probably his most ambitious work to date.
The three novels are quite different from one another and could, indeed, be said to represent divergent trends. One is an “inside” novel for “outsiders,” written from a Mormon perspective but aimed at a mass market audience. Another is in some respects an outside novel for insiders, only incidentally Mormon in its themes but published by the major LDS publisher for LDS readers. The third is an inside novel for insiders.
Orson Scott Card’s A Woman of Destiny may well be the most sympathetic fictional treatment of Mormon history ever issued by a national publisher. But that claim, once made, requires some qualification. The novel, published in paperback by Berkley Books, has reportedly had a very good sale, but one wonders what the purchasers thought they were buying. The title, the cover design (on the front an aristocratic-looking woman against a backdrop of sailing ship and covered wagon; on the back the same woman, disrobed, in a passionate embrace), and the blurbs (“The epic saga of a woman who dared to search the world for love”) all suggest the formula historical romance. How many readers picked up the book at the supermarket bookrack only to be disappointed when they discovered that the novel does not conform to the expected stereotype? And on the other hand, how many people who might have enjoyed the book were deterred by the garish come-on, thinking that it was cheap sensational fiction?