Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance : A Memoir - Elna Baker

This review comes to us from guest contributor, Melissa Mc., over at Gerbera Daisy Diaries. Melissa Mc (aka Gerbera Daisy Mom) is a mother of 3; wife of 1; daughter, sister, friend, aunt; lover of football, politics, food, travel, walking, theatre and all things literary. She’s without talent in most normal Mormon activities – she doesn’t paint, sew, craft, scrapbook or quilt. She can be found in front of the TV during every March Madness college basketball tournament and on every Saturday during college football season. Her youngest was born with a congenital heart defect and had open heart surgery at 5 weeks. She knows more about Children’s Hospitals than she ever wanted too. And when she grows up, she wants to be the first female commissioner of the NFL.

Summary: It's lonely being a Mormon in New York City. So once again, Elna Baker attends the New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance-a virgin in a room full of virgins doing the Macarena. Her Queen Bee costume, which involves a black funnel stuck to her butt for a stinger, isn't attracting the attention she'd anticipated. So once again, Elna is alone at the punch bowl, stocking up on generic Oreos, exactly where you'd expect to find a single Mormon who's also a Big Girl. But loneliness is nothing compared to what happens when she loses eighty pounds. . . . and falls in love with an atheist.The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance is the memoir of a girl who distresses her family when she chooses NYU over BYU. A girl who's cultivating an oxymoronic identity as a bold, educated, modern, funny, proper, abstinent, religious stand-up comic, equal parts wholesome and hot. As Elna test-drives her identity, she finds herself in the strangest scenarios including selling creepy, overpriced dolls to petulant children at FAO Schwarz and dressing a head wound with a maxi pad while on a date. (summary from amazon.com - image from goodreads.com)

My review: For anyone who has experienced an LDS (Latter-day Saint) church dance, they are on the spectrum of the cheesiest thing you have ever participated in to the most magical experience of your life (however, I’ve only experienced the former and I really don’t think the latter exists). Elna Baker uses the reality of church dances as the framework for her memoir, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance. This infamous dance is now probably the single most popular activity in all the church!

As a LDS member who has chosen NYU over BYU, Elna tries to balance two worlds: One of devout Latter-day Saint member, the other of artistic, educated, attractive young woman. Throughout the memoir we are given intimate access to Elna’s struggles: her struggles with weight, her struggles with faith, her struggles with morality and her struggles with employment. Along the ride we meet her atheist boyfriend and love of her life, “Matt,” her member boyfriend and almost fiancé, “Hayes,” and “Warren Beatty” with whom she almost has a one night stand.

Elna is an extremely talented writer. Her personal vignettes are tragic and hysterical all at the same time. She is an unexpected missionary – discussing sometimes difficult church doctrine with ease and straightforwardness and recognizes the “elephant in the room” when talking about doctrine that may seem weird to others. She is truly brave by allowing so many millions to read about her moral trespasses. I probably shouldn’t air my dirty laundry in a book review – but at times, this was a very painful book to read – I had similar experiences as a single adult (and sometimes inactive) member of the church. It was often a difficult process. I wish I could recreate my single years in such a humorous and redemptive fashion!

Thank you Elna, for sharing your life, knowledge, maturation and discoveries with us. And thank you for giving me back my reading mojo!

My Rating: 4 stars. Language and mild sexual situations.

A warning for the reader: Elna is very descriptive when describing her “flings.” She doesn’t mince words and doesn’t sugar coat her internal battles. Nor does she shy away from language that some might find inappropriate – especially for a member of the church. I, however, appreciated her candor and felt she was being true to herself. Others may not feel the same way.

Sum it up: Funny LDS woman and her search for balance and faith.

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