I recently finished reading Mette Harrison’s new novel, The Book of Laman, from BCC Press. This book was previously reviewed by Mary Ann here. You can read my other short reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.
Laman finally gets his say in this tongue-in-cheek (yet not comedic) revisiting of the Book of Mormon from its most understood character. The family dynamics of this dynastic lot of outcasts is familiar yet hidden in the original. Harrison invests in a backstory that parallels Joseph Smith’s own familial background (although JS is in the Nephi role in this story). She also uses the story to pose questions about modern Mormonism, how the divine is perceived when one is a doubter, and the role of upbringing and life experience in one’s perceptions of spiritual matters. It’s a distinctly modern reading of Laman’s experience, but with lots of things to think about.
The book’s not perfect. Like Mette’s other books, it’s young adult fiction and reads like it. It’s only one possible narrative, so you might not like her choices. As another reviewer put it, Laman’s worst faults (domestic violence against his brother) might be glossed over a bit here or not taken as seriously as they ought from a psychological standpoint. And yet . . .
If you haven’t read it, I recommend it at only $6.95 on Kindle. Here are the top reasons you should buy and read this book:
- Understanding family dynamics. How did a family with the same parents produce both Nephi and Laman? Why would those parents favor a younger son in a culture based on primogeniture (and for once, let’s hear from someone other than the favored son)?
- Women exist in this version, and they even have *gasp* names and personalities. The fact that women are nearly invisible to Nephi doesn’t escape the notice of the female readers as often as it does the male readers. What kind of woman would Laman like vs. what kind of woman would Nephi like? Well, all you have to do is look around your ward to answer this question. Fist bump to Mette.
- It’s a more human story. People in this version have flaws, and disagreements aren’t all black and white. There are struggles with doubt. 1st and 2nd Nephi are nearly unreadable, IMO, because Nephi is so unbearably inhuman. Every disagreement is 100% good vs. evil. And he’s the man without a flaw, or at least he seems to think so. Laman openly acknowledges his own flaws as well as the goodness he sees in his younger, usurping brother, but we also see the flaws he sees in Nephi.
- It likens scripture to our day. Although there are some anachronisms, intentionally, which for me were a little distracting, it does pull the reader out of the ancient story into the contemporary one that is familiar to us as Mormons in 2017. We all know people like this. We know struggles like this. We are familiar with the arguments that are put forward in this book about doubt, obedience, relationships, the role of leaders, revelation, and so forth.
- Support the BCC Press and other worthwhile publications by Mormon authors. If for no other reason (and I feel that the book has enough pull to merit a perusal), people who enjoy the blogs should also support Mormon authors. BCC Press is a very worthwhile venture, committed to publishing works by authors like Mette who are Mormon thinkers, wrestling with doctrine and culture in ways we wish we could with more ease in our wards. Supporting the BCC Press is supporting the future of Mormon discussion and culture.
The book’s not perfect, but then again, neither is its source material. There’s a lot of gap to fill here. At its best, it’s a thought experiment or a writing assignment in book form. Book of Mormon fan fiction is its own genre, and this one is a far better effort than the majority because of her willingness to ask tougher questions than most Mormon authors.
Ultimately, her book is hopeful and faithful, but not faithful in the way most Mormon gospel doctrine classes would recognize. It’s faithful in taking doubt seriously and hopeful in also taking the love of God for sinners, not just for the self-righteous, seriously.
If I haven’t convinced you yet, here is my review from Amazon:
Laman Finally Gets the Mic. This is a fun read and easy to get through. Harrison tees up interesting questions about modern religious observance while placing it in a Book of Mormon context. She creates an interesting backstory for Laman, Lehi, et al, that addresses questions of how one’s life experiences impact faith, how family relationships can alter a person’s ability to trust other people and God, and how the divine still works on a person who is full of doubts. Well done! Plus, anyone who has actually read the Book of Mormon has to agree that Laman is much more interesting than Nephi. It’s about time we turned this story on its head.
- Have you read it yet? If so, what are your impressions?
- Do you think we would benefit from more empathizing with Laman & Lemuel in our church classes or does that erode faith? Do you think they are beyond redemption?
- Do you like Nephi? If so, how do you deal with his self-serving narrative? Is it righteous to usurp your older brothers and then throw them under the bus?
- How do we improve our understanding of scriptures from the current approach at church? Are we asking the wrong questions? What would you do differently as a teacher?