Mormon boy goes on mission and loses girl. Mormon boy returns from mission and struggles to get girl back.
That’s the long and short of it in Robert Farrell Smith’s latest Mormon comedy, “For Time and All Absurdity.” It’s a book with a shockingly predictable storyline that somehow manages to give us a few brief nuggets of satisfyingly insightful surprise along the way.
The story is told by Ian Smith, an ordinary teenage kid most of us can relate to. Ian’s plagued by Murphy’s Law, easily embarrassed by his borderline-psychotic family and instantaneously paralyzed by the mere sight of his one and only true love, Bronwyn.
Ian is the proud owner of eight acres of secluded mountain land purchased with his portion of his grandfather’s inheritance. Ian built a cabin on the land, and he dreams of one day settling down to a simple, blissful life in the wilderness with Bronwyn as his wife.
But Ian’s dreams remain just that: dreams. Even though Bronwyn and Ian’s father work together, Ian can’t quite seem to get Bronwyn to notice him. Ian leaves for his mission to Germany disappointed but hopeful Bronwyn will one day be his.
His hope is shattered near the end of his mission when his sister bluntly and nonchalantly informs him in a letter that Bronwyn is married. The news sends Ian into an emotional tailspin. He’s forced to admit he’s lost a girl he never even had.
Ian returns a few months later to a less-than-spectacular homecoming. He’s disappointed and demoralized. When he spots Bronwyn at a ward social, he decides to speak to her. After all, he reasons, what’s the pressure now that she’s married? The conversation – their first – is going just fine, until Ian learns of Bronwyn’s recent divorce. He’s simultaneously sympathetic, elated and terrified. Now the pressure’s on.
Both Ian and Bronwyn soon head off to school at college where they’re forced to endure the inanities of singlehood, insufferable roommates and a life that has them hurtling toward one another on an apparent collision course.
Smith’s prose is simplistic, sometimes painfully so. He seems less a master storyteller and more a keen observer and gifted satirist of Mormon culture. He takes playful mini-stabs at the small but laughable incongruities of Mormonism. Early in the book, for example, Ian chastises his date for ordering a Coke. Later, Ian describes himself as too tired in the morning to pray on his knees. Instead, he prays for forgiveness while lying on his back.
There are several comedic gems in this book, like a heart-to-heart between Ian and his father about the stick-pulling prowess of Joseph Smith.
The book will no doubt please audiences looking for a light and light-hearted Mormon read. But for those seeking a bit more to chew on, disappointment is inevitable. The book has plenty of entertaining moments but fails to pull those moments together into a compelling whole. The vanilla plot dooms the story despite a mildly suspenseful side-plot dealing with a fraud investigation that could implicate both Ian and Bronwyn’s fathers.
In the end, “For Time and All Absurdity” is a predictable jaunt that doesn’t exactly surprise us but doesn’t really pretend it wants to either.