An Embarrassment of Richard's
Snide Remarks #334
"An Embarrassment of Richard's"
by Eric D. Snider
Published in The Daily Herald on November 24, 2002
When you think of stores that sell pornography, probably the first name that springs to mind is Deseret Book. But those purveyors of smut are finally cleaning up their act, starting with a refusal to sell Mormon author Richard Paul Evans' trashy new novel, "LaVonda Does LaVerkin."
No, I am kidding about the title. It is called "The Last Promise." It is about an American woman living in Italy with her Italian husband, and this Italian husband is emotionally abusive, and later physically abusive, too. So the woman develops a friendship with another man, and they share some hugs and kisses (but no sex), and she realizes she should dump her worthless spouse for this other guy if she ever wants to be happy.
I read this book very quickly, the way you would wolf down an intestine sandwich if you were compelled to eat one. I can say that it (the book, not the sandwich) is better than Evans' "The Christmas Box," though that is not much of a compliment, since the Hanta virus is also better than "The Christmas Box."
But my point is, "The Last Promise" is a fairly good book, as far as romance novels go. Deseret Book hasn't pulled it from its shelves due to a lack of quality. If quality were part of the criteria, they wouldn't persist in selling things like "The Book of Mormon Sleuth." (Actual description from the back cover of this teen novel: "Whether it's how to solve everyday problems, escape from the clutches of a demented thief, or solve the mystery of Aunt Ella's cellar, Brandon's scriptures never fail him.")
The decision on "The Last Promise" stemmed from the content of the book: Though there is no sex, the woman in the story does have an emotionally intimate relationship with a man who is not her husband. This can be viewed as a form of adultery, which is a no-no among most of your major religions. One of those religions is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns Deseret Book and whose members make up, I don't know, about 100 percent of Deseret Book's clientele.
Now, I could go down to Deseret Book and make a list of other books they sell that have content far more objectionable than what's in "The Last Promise." That seems like something I would do, and it would get me out of the office for a few hours, because I would probably go to the movies, too. But Deseret Book has beaten me to it. They have announced that they are systematically going through all the titles they sell and removing the ones that don't match their customers' "core values," as Deseret Book president Sheri Dew put it.
You are already thinking that the Bible contains some very graphic sex and violence, yet Deseret Book has no problem selling it. That is another matter, though: The Bible, while depicting sinfulness, also generally depicts the woeful effects of sinning. "The Last Promise" shows no long-term ill effects of the woman's relationship; in fact, it's not even portrayed as sinful.
I think the woman probably makes some mistakes along the way, but I also think she ultimately does what's best for her. Why stay in a loveless relationship? Because you need help with the rent money? There are a lot of gray areas in life, and this book explores one of them. In the world of Deseret Book, however, there is no gray, only black and white (mostly white). DB apparently doesn't want to burden its customers by making them think about the gray areas, the parts where divorce is sometimes the best option and where a close friendship is more valuable than a dead marriage.
There is a stifling air of perfectionism in the magical world of Deseret Book. Things are very cut-and-dried in the books they sell there. If you say your prayers, read your scriptures and go to church, life will be fantastic. Sure, there will be bumps along the way. But they will be temporary, and easily overcome by praying, reading and going. If you find yourself stuck in a life that is somehow more difficult than that, then it is surely because you have failed to repent of some sin along the way -- it is your fault, in other words.
I hope Deseret Book is wrong about what its customers want to see. I hope people can read a story about someone who makes a difficult decision and, whether they agree with the decision or not, find some good in the story. I hope people can see that some situations are multi-faceted, with no clear-cut right answer.
But mostly, I hope Brandon can solve the mystery of Aunt Ella's cellar. Because seriously, what's DOWN there?
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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