Thursday, September 10, 2015
Review: ELDERS, by Ryan McIlvain
I had Elders in my to-be-read pile for a long time, just about since the paperback came out, and yes, what prompted me to finally pick it up was going to see the musical "Book of Mormon" on Broadway this summer. That said, this beautiful, bittersweet book is nothing like what I saw on stage (which I also loved). Elders is an absorbing and accomplished story about growing up and testing limits and finding what it takes to take the steps you need in life.
The book focuses on two Mormon elders on their mission in Brazil. Elder McLeod is an American from an elite family. He is partnered with Elder Passos, a Brazilian convert from a poor background who is both zealous and ambitious. Elder McLeod has the relaxed attitude of someone who takes his faith for granted. It's simply the air he breathes, but sometimes he can't quite. Passos is a convert with something to prove to himself and others. Alongside his holy mission to bring new people to his church is Passos's personal mission is to gain admission to Brigham Young University and a make life in the United States, and he is equally dedicated to both.
McLeod and Passos work together just fine and get along okay, enduring the daily grind of prospecting. McLeod has even invited Passos to stay with his family in Utah if Passos succeeds in his mission to get into BYU. But when they meet Josefina, an attractive woman genuinely excited about converting to Mormonism, things begin to fall apart. Josefina's husband Leandro neither shares her enthusiasm nor trusts these handsome young men who pay so much attention to his wife, and as it turns out the very Mormons who hold the key to Passos's future have some things to say about Josefina's conversion too.
As their relationship with the couple develops, fault lines open up between the two men. McLeod finds Passos rigid and difficult; Passos finds McLeod lazy and spoiled. Each questions his relationship to the church for different reasons and also the necessity of their partnership as time goes on. When the situation with Josefina erupts into open conflict their relationship deteriorates alongside it.
I loved Elders and strongly recommend it to readers of literary fiction. McLeod and Passos are believable and detailed characters; their lives felt very real to me. McIlvain's writing is excellent; he draws with a sure hand. His portrayal of these men and their life is nuanced and thoughtful and thought-provoking. He captures a piece of religious life not often seen in mainstream fiction and he captures it beautifully with its beauty and its flaws.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.