'Dark Watch' an above-average collection of Mormon stories

Friday , May 22, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Doug Gibson

“Dark Watch, and Other Mormon-American Stories” is a strong fiction collection. Author William Morris is a well-known name in Mormon-themed literature and has published in “Dialogue” and other journals. There are two genres explored in “Dark Watch.” The first takes regular, often-mundane tasks within Mormonism, such as home teaching, priesthood visits, missionary work, and delves inside the minds, reads the thoughts and conclusions that players feel during these experiences. Other stories are more science fiction, and deal with Mormonism, and religion, as a secret motivation kept under wraps, deeply hidden within adherents, some of whom can go through long stretches of existence without realizing their theological beliefs. “Dark Watch,” the titular story, is in this mode, describing a future society of various colonies, with distinct yet also faint similarities, struggling to stay in some sort of harmony.

In the stories related to home teaching and priesthood visits; there are tales, some narrated by teens, that take home teachers — ward priesthood holders — into the homes of dysfunctional families. One visit is to a father moving into political radicalism. Another to parents losing control of their children. Another to a parent who has written off his child. Morris’ prose reflects the uncomfortable situations, the struggling to find the right words to persuade, the inclination to rely on a convenient Scripture to try to sway, and the realization from most of those talking that they won’t change the minds of those listening to them. There is a story, “Invitation,” where the situation is reversed. “Brother Johnson,” the home teacher, has embraced fundamentalist Mormonism and is slowly hinting to the uncomfortable couple, Michael and Shari, he home teaches, his odd beliefs, including polygamy.

The missionary stories include a recently returned missionary finding it difficult to move smoothly from the mission life to the expected next step, a college education. Another story, “Conference,” involves Sara, a returned missionary, single and moving into a career in academia, inviting two missionaries in northern California for a night chat while she evades an academic colleague who married her roommate. The missionary-themed story I enjoyed the most was “Lost Icon,” which follows a missionary’s experiences with a European academic who regards the church as something to be studied. The professor eventually becomes obsessed with some icons that he believes parallel early Mormon history; he becomes sick, and eventually leaves his research with the missionary, who returns home to the U.S.

The story ends with the missionary following up on the academic, and learning to his surprise that the professor became a convert and is now a regular, albeit eccentric, church member. What I find interesting is that the news of the baptism surprises the narrator, who had envisioned the academic as someone too smart to become a convert. It underscores how we can see people in distinct manners than others and how discernment affects our relationships and actions. It’s telling that earlier in the stories, other missionaries see the professor differently, one chuckling condescendingly about how he likes that “little dude.”

I’m not a Mormon intellectual; I don’t do well at finding specific subtexts in literature. However, I can relate to the interactions, the awkwardness, the communications in Morris’ contemporary stories. That doesn’t make me unique; I suspect that many of my LDS peers would have the same reactions from these tales.

Other enjoyable stories, such as “Reactivator,” describe a priesthood counselor’s discomfort with his super-motivated quorum president, and “Pass Along” is an interesting tale about a lonely LDS woman who can’t stop collecting, and keeping, church pass along cards she finds in distinct locations. As mentioned, other stories deal more in science fiction, presenting a future hidden gospel; one involves a church historian who uses futuristic methods to study the faith’s history.

“Dark Watch” is published by A Motley Vision, which is the name of the blog that Morris runs (http://www.motleyvision.org/). It can be purchased for $4.99 via Kindle. Just type “Dark Watch William Morris” at Google. These are stories with often spare, matter-of-fact prose that can produce empathy. The contemporary tales usually have sentiments or situations that Mormons can identify with, with endings that ask us to interpret honestly the routine, yet complex, tasks within our church.

dgibson@standard.net

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