A glorious debut that T.C. Boyle calls "powerful and deeply moving" that follows two young Mormon missionaries in Brazil and their tense, peculiar friendship. Elder McLeod - outspoken, surly, a brash American - is nearing the end of his mission in Brazil. For nearly two years he has spent his days studying the Bible and the Book of Mormon, knocking on doors, teaching missionary lessons - "experimenting on the word". His new partner is Elder Passos, a devout, ambitious Brazilian who found salvation and solace in the church after his mother’s early death. The two men are at first suspicious of each other, and their work together is frustrating, fruitless. That changes when a beautiful woman and her husband offer the missionaries a chance to be heard, to put all of their practice to good use, to test the mettle of their faith. But before they can bring the couple to baptism, they must confront their own long-held beliefs and doubts, and the simmering tensions at the heart of their friendship.
Ryan McIlvain, the author of Elders, did a great job of writing the story of two Mormon missionaries and creating enough conflict between them to make a good book. The tension between the two characters builds and builds to a level where the reader just HAS to know how it’s going to turn out. The even bigger conflict is the internal one in the mind of Elder McLeod, the American missionary. It becomes apparent to the reader that Elder McCloud is not really suited to the Mormon way of life, but he’s been brought up in it and has to realize this in his own way and on his own timeline. It is a real feat that the author is able to make this timeline interesting by combining these two conflicts and coming up with a very readable, enjoyable book.
Elders is also an interesting look at the Mormon religion. Most of the rules that are revealed in the book are almost unbelievable to me, but I found it fascinating to read about them and how the young people, or all the people, in the book deal with these rules. I’ve been on the inside of the door which I’ve locked to avoid the Mormons because I do NOT want to hear their proselytizing, but this book gave me an opportunity, without having to open the door, to read about what they are like, and what it might be like to be a Mormon. I can’t help thinking of Mitt Romney and wondering if they told HIM to wear his blue jeans to bed at night to help guard against the evils of masturbation!
After reading Elders, I found an interesting interview with the author, Ryan McIlvain on Fresh Air with Terri Gross on NPR, by the way. That is worth a listen!
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