Monday, July 21, 2008

Angel Falling Softly

Angel Falling Softly
Eugene Woodbury
Over the past six months, Rachel Forsythe's perfect life has descended from the ideal to the tragic. The younger of her two daughters is dying of cancer. Despite her standing as the wife of a respected Mormon bishop, neither God nor medical science has blessed her with a cure. Or has He?
Milada Daranyi, chief investment officer at Daranyi Enterprises International, has come to Utah to finalize the takeover of a Salt Lake City-based medical technology company. Bored with her downtown hotel accommodations, she rents a house in the Sandy suburbs.
And then the welcome wagon shows up. Her neighbors perceive her to be a beautiful, intelligent, and daunting young woman. But Rachel senses something about Milada that leads her in a completely different—and very dangerous—direction.
Rachel's suspicions are right: Milada is homo lamia. A vampire. Fallen. And possibly the only person in the world who can save Rachel's daughter. Uncovering Milada's secrets, Rachel becomes convinced that, as Milton writes, "all this good of evil shall produce."
As the two women push against every moral boundary in order to protect their families, the price of redemption will prove higher than either of them could have possibly imagined.

My sister asked me once why I read so many mindless LDS fiction books. My answer to her was that I really hate reading a book, turning the page and being smacked in the face with gratuitus scenes. In LDS fiction, one does not have to worry about that, no matter how insipid the story may be.

Zarahemla Books bills itself as an LDS publisher, so when they contacted me and asked me to review Eugene Woodbury's new book, Angel Falling Softly, I said sure. I had seen the book, but was not sure I wanted to read it or not, but they were going to give me a copy so I could read it and then pass judgement. I am really glad I did not waste money on this book because I have some serious issues with it.

Let me begin with what I liked and what was done well. I think that Mr. Woodbury tells a good story. It was very well written. Milada, the vampire, is centuries old. She is also not native to the U.S. Because of this, her speech, thoughts and even story is sometimes old fashioned and pretentious. Example from chapter 28:

Den dwellers like the lycanthropes mystified her. The behavior ran in the genes, she supposed- that primeval affection for the group, that inherent desire to belong that made homo lupus ultimately more human than homo lamia, despite the more monstrous and undisguisable nture of their metamorphosis. ..... it amounted to more than the simple utilitarianism of keeping her food close at hand; that incalculable need to maintain the illusion of her humanness kept her at once insulated from the teeming city, yet cheek by jowl with the peopled world.

By contrast, the voice in the scenes with the "normal" people had a normal everyday feel to them. Example chapter 29:
Laura and her father were watching football for family home evening. David bounded up to the kitchen at the end of the first quarter to get a pop and popcorn refill.

I also liked how Rachel, the bishop's wife, struggled with her faith. We all have these moments, days, months, years and this was Rachel's. She wants her miracle and God is not granting it and she wants to know why when she does all the right things it is just not happening.

Milada, the vampire, also has her moral struggles. She wants forgiveness and atonement for her past. I think she even wants to believe in a God of goodness as opposed to the god of evil that she serves (served? hard to tell sometimes). She wants absolution, but feels that it is for everyone but her. And her struggle is portrayed wonderfully.

Vampires in our world? Vampires seeking absolution? People living and existing and even being friends with vampires? I can suspend reality long enough to read and even enjoy a book such as this. But here come my problems with this book and why I cannot give a reccomendation to read this book.

*Mr. Woodbury would have us forget the plan of salvation, that those fallen angels were not allowed to possess bodies.

*He portrays Job as a whining, grouchy, grumpy old man that spends his days griping at God until God throw his hands up and rewards Job for it. Rachel then states that maybe if she gripes at God long enough He will give her what she wants.

*The gratuitous sex scenes. They might have been ok, except they were not just alluded to, especially the scene between the bishop and his wife. No, they were described in full detail.

*Rachel, a practicing, believing LDS member, bishop's wife, member of the Relief Society precidency turns her back on everything she knows, and believes (and we are told that she does know and believe) and makes a deal with the devil for her daughter's life and soul. And then we are told that God himself approves of this decision. Rachel never thinks it over, she never prays about it, she never turns to her scriptures or knowledge for comfort- no instead she turns and runs straight to the arms of the devil and his servants for help.

*There were several ways this book could have ended. Mr. Woodbury chose the most controversial ending. If this wasn't billed as an LDS book I probably would have been ok with that. However, as this is billed as LDS fiction, I don't understand how to reconcile the ending with my beliefs. I don't understand how Mr. Woodbury's characters do it either.

In checking the author's bio, we are told that he is LDS, a returned missionary, but in reading the story I get the feeling that he does not have a firm grip on the simple precepts of the gospel. That or else he is trying to stir up controversy.

If you are going to call yourself a writer of LDS fiction or an LDS publisher, then you should write/publish books that uphold basic gospel priciples. They should uplift and leave the reader with a good feeling. Everyone does not have to join the church or even make a complete turn around. It is even ok for your characters to struggle with their faith and not come to a resolution. That is real life. We have all had our "why me, God?" moments. That is real life. And sometimes it takes a long time and even a falling away before there is resolution. But do not mess with doctrine and truths and twist the gospel plan to fit your story. If you want to write that story, take the LDS doctrine out of it, call your self a national publisher and sell that book. I will read it and probably like it.

I tried to like this book, I really did, but in the end it just left a bitter taste in my mouth. Don't waste your money on it, borrow mine before I toss it if you feel that you must waste your time on it.


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Kimberly said...

I think a lot of the problems the church is going to have in these last days are going to come from within. There are some disturbing trends coming to light and this is a prime example. Thank you for the warning!

Anna Maria Junus said...

This is the second review I've read of this book and the first review I read had the same problems you did.

It amazes me how some books slip through the cracks of LDS fiction, and other books that do obey the rules are considered inappropriate.

It sounds like this book might have worked if it hadn't been marketed as LDS fiction.

Although I have trouble with the idea of a devout woman making a deal with the devil, even if she's going through a faith crisis.

Frankly, there is something that makes me want to read it simply because it's controversial and I want to find out for myself.

tawnya said...

Ew. That sounds horrid. Is he just trying to jump on the lame vampire train? And am I the only one totally hoping that the daughter dies in the end? No? Just me?

(and it just goes to show...even LDS authors aren't above the problems most have with "mainstream" lit. But that's a whole different rant!)

Sandra said...

Well, I was hoping for the daughter dying in the end as well. Didn't happen and that was another one of my issues. I left so many out because this review was turning into a shred fest.

Sandra said...

Oh, and Tawnya, this is the book that I said I was going to try and leave my preconceptions out of. But in the end it turned out to be exactly what I thought when I first heard about it.

Anonymous said...

I am very glad that I don't have to be there when Mr. Woodbury has his next priesthood interview!

I absolutely agree with Kimberly - and with your review of the book, Sandra.

Sad and disappointing. Too bad the rest of us LDS authors may have to spend years making up for the damage this book will do.

tawnya said...

I see you are reading Room For Two. I've been reading Abel's blog for years and I'll be excited to see what you think!

G. Parker said...

Sounds to me like someone is trying to do another vampire world...ugh. I definitely will be avoiding this one. Thanks!

Jennie said...

Excellent and honest review!

Candace E. Salima said...

Excellent review, Sandra. Exactly the same problems I had with it and a few more besides.

Anna, Give the book a miss, it's really not worth spending money on.

Anonymous said...

Re: "If you are going to call yourself a writer of LDS fiction or an LDS publisher, then you should write/publish books that uphold basic gospel principles. They should uplift and leave the reader with a good feeling."

Are you serious? I found I could read AFS as a Latter-day Saint and not worry that its insights might be a little distinct from 40-plus years of Sunday School.

It's a good read. To condemn it because it invades personal spiritual panic rooms is a bit sad.
Doug Gibson
Ogden, Utah

Sandra said...

Doug, so we don't see eye to eye on this book. That is ok. No spiritual panic rooms over the book here. I am fine with my review and my feelings about the book. You are free to feel the way you want to about it as well. We don't all have to like the same thing or feel good about the same thing. I am sure there are lots of things that you don't like that I would and maybe, if you knew me, you might find that there are some things that we both like. But for you to condem me because I wrote what I felt is what is truly sad.

Just for kicks, why don't you go and read Monday, July 28th's post. As well as the comments. You might be surprised to find that the publisher and I actually agree on a point about the book.

Anonymous said...

Sandra, one can argue that publicly disagreeing is a form of flattery. You have an opinion. I respected it enough to take time to counter it.

I have disagreement with the absolutism in the earlier-referenced statement. It seems restrictive. I've always appreciated this quote from the novelist Zadie Smith:

"Readers fail writers just as often as writers fail readers. Readers fail when they allow themselves to believe the old mantra that fiction is the thing you relate to and writers the amenable people you seek out when you want to have your own version of the world confirmed and reinforced."

Doug Gibson
Ogden, Utah