By Heather Danforth
With the niche success of movies like “The Singles” Ward,” it is becoming increasingly apparent that Latter-day Saints like to laugh at themselves. They like to see characters they recognize from their own wards. Even if those characters are a little exaggerated, they recognize a grain of truth, and it”s that grain of truth that makes this genre sell.
And it”s that grain of truth that makes Robert Farrell Smith”s book, “Baptists At Our Barbecue,” a success. In this novel, Smith takes the noble theme of tolerance and acceptance, sets it in the crazy town of Longwinded, and clothes it in the craziest cast of Mormon characters that he could make up.
The conversation between Ian and Tartan, two of the somewhat more normal characters in the book, sums it up:
“Have you ever seen people like these here in Longwinded?” Ian asks.
“Yeah, these people are just like those in my ward back in Utah. Granted, my ward in Utah had normal people as well. I think the ratio was one eccentric to every twenty normals. Here it seems to be just the opposite.”
The story centers around the character Tartan Jones, a 29-year-old Latter-day Saint single who has never been outside of Utah. He gets fed up with everyone in his ward trying to set him up with their daughters and nieces and friends, takes the first transfer out of town, and ends up in a town that the locals call Longwinded.
Longwinded has exactly the same number of Baptists as it does Mormons. When Tartan shows up, he breaks the tie and brings on another feuding spat. To add to the injustice of his appearance, half of the Mormons” double-wide trailer meeting house is stolen. Accusations are flying when the little branch gets a new president, who proposes an inter-faith barbecue.
“You mean, invite the Baptists?” the stunned saints of Longwinded say. When they are finally talked into it (“Just think how much more charitable this will make us look than the Baptists,” Tartan pleads), a hilariously bumpy ride to tolerance and acceptance between the two groups follows.
On the downside, the book was fairly predictable. Thee are no real surprises in the plot. You know what”s going to happen from the first chapter – the question is simply how it will happen, which is sometimes surprising.
Also, some of the humorous lines are forced. (Charity pushed her hair up over her shoulders and let it fall down her back. It reminded me of someone fanning a lengthy book. How novel.)
But despite that, Smith accomplishes what he set out to do. His book is a humorous look at the more eccentric side of LDS culture. And that grain of truth is there. Reading “Baptists At Our Barbecue,” you”ll wonder how Smith found out about all the craziest people in your own ward.