No Going Back as a Novel of Ideas

Over the past year, one of the most interesting places for thinking and reading about Mormon literature has been The Low-Tech World — a blog by Scott Hales, a graduate student in English and comparative literature at the University of Cincinnati. In a series of witty and insightful reviews, Hales has tackled topics ranging from Doug Thayer’s The Tree House to the works of Nephi Anderson. This past week, it was No Going Back’s turn in the barrel. I think it came out pretty well.

Hales starts by acknowledging that calling a work of fiction “didactic” is usually considered an insult. Yet that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. He notes:

[L]iterary history shows us that such works have left no small footprint in the wet cement of history…. Didacticism, sentimentality, and good old American preachiness can be powerful tools in the right writer’s utility belt…. [W]e would do well to remember, dear reader, that there are… writers of talent who are willing to break a few fiction faux-pas to make important points about the issues of the day.

This, according to Hales, is a good way to view No Going Back, which he characterizes as

a novel of ideas — a roundtable in book form. In his narrative, Langford has included the perspectives of a variety of people, each of whom has a different opinion about Mormonism, homosexuality, and the choices Paul has to make…. In a sense, what Langford does with No Going Back is show that the issue of Mormonism and homosexuality is complicated — and every voice at the roundtable discussion needs to be heard.

Overall, despite some “stutters,” Hales sees No Going Back as artistically successful. He writes:

As a novel of ideas, No Going Back is surprisingly void of sentimentalism — probably due to its avoidance of utopian spaces…. At times… certain scenes, characters, and situations in the novel seem designed to make a point or raise a question in the debate over Mormonism and homosexuality. At the same time, though, the novel never seems too heavy-handed to me. For the most part, Langford tries to approach every idea in the novel evenly and sympathetically, although some points-of-view and organizations come out less scathed than others. This seems to fit with his larger agenda for the book. Langford’s after conversation, not conversion.

Hales also praises the novel’s major characters as “interesting [and] realistic” and notes the pervasiveness of the theme of silence in the book, extending beyond the main character’s situation into areas such as the relationship between Richard and Sandy Mortensen (the main character’s bishop and his wife). I’m not sure that as an author, I’d been fully aware of all those connections. It’s a cool experience to learn something new about your own work from reading someone else’s thoughts about it.

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One Response to “No Going Back as a Novel of Ideas”

  1. Rex says:

    The pervasiveness of the theme of silence! I think that is a good observation. Really, in my point of view, silence is the problem. It continues here in my local area. Mormon leaders here are getting more and more entrenched in the silence regarding homosexuality, probably out of fear of attracting negative attention.

    I wonder sometimes if your book would have fared better among Mormons if it had come at a different time, before Proposition 8 and the backlash against the Church. We are more afraid of the H-word than ever.

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