The Reluctant Blogger, by Ryan Rapier, is a new novel, soon to be published by Cedar Fort. It’s ostensibly an ‘LDS novel,’ in that the characters are all LDS, the situations ones that LDS people are likely to recognize and find familiar. But I think that non-LDS readers may well find it interesting as well, especially readers raised in a conservative religious tradition. When I read Chaim Potok’s The Chosen for the first time, I felt a thrill of recognition throughout, even though I’m not one of the Hasidim, and don’t live in an Orthodox Jewish community in New York. I was a Mormon boy living in Indiana. But the love and sense of inclusion in a faith-driven community was very familiar to me, as was the pull and tug of orthodoxy, the security that comes from elders in a faith that purports to have The Answers. And I also recognized the limitations of that faith, the attraction of secular humanism, the search for other, perhaps more nourishing answers. Both those great themes–inclusion and also separation, certainty and also the power of doubt, belonging and also not quite belonging– spoke to me; they are likewise the themes of Rapier’s novel.
I just compared Ryan Rapier to Chaim Potok. Overpraise and hyperbole, to be sure. But for a first novel, Rapier’s achievement is substantial. All the characters are compellingly written, and although the story has romcom overtones, we do want the two main characters to end up together, and want to fling the book at a passing seagull when it looks like they won’t.
The premise is this: Todd Landry, a struggling LDS guy, has been tasked by his therapist with writing a blog, an honest one, intended for the therapist’s eyes only. Nothing else has worked–he hasn’t engaged with his therapy in any meaningful way otherwise. The therapist gives him an ultimatum–blog, or end our therapy sessions together. And although Todd resents the very idea of therapy, he also knows he needs it.
Todd needs therapy, because his wife has died, and he’s utterly bereft at her passing. He has three small children, and they haven’t coped well either. He doesn’t know how to help them, and he feels like a failure in every meaningful sense. And he’s angry at God, and feels guilty for that anger too. He’s lost and alone and in terrible pain, and yet feels pressure to ‘be strong,’ to ignore that pain and get on with things. That’s who we are, after all, we Mormons. We go on. We cope. And Todd tries to. And it just flat doesn’t work.
His parents try to help. But in some ways, they get in the way. Especially Todd’s father, every inch the Mormon patriarch–certain of his place in the cosmos, certain in his faith, and a formidable act to live up to. Todd also has a best friend, Kevin, who has never married–Kevin later comes out to him as gay, which Todd handles abysmally.
At a Single Adult dance, Todd meets Emily, and gets her number. From that point on, the novel essentially follows four subplots.
First and foremost is Todd’s relationship with Emily. They go through numerous vicissitudes together, which Todd mostly mishandles, but we like her, like him, root for them to make it as a couple. Romcom–but it all works.
Second is Todd and Kevin, how much Todd needs Kevin in his life, and how badly he hurts Kevin, a whole cycle of pain and repentance and redemption. It’s lovely writing, and completely convincing, though a tough read at times.
Third is Todd’s relationship with his father, especially when his mother dies, and Dad goes back onto the dating circuit. Fascinating character study, seeing a man built on absolutes and certainties start to crack.
And finally, we follow Todd’s friendship with Jason. They golf together, they hang out. But Jason is an insensitive jerk, selfish and rude, at times. Over time, we learn more of Jason, and his story becomes increasingly heart-breaking.
I’m not going to tell you how it ends. But it’s a story of loss and pain and mistakes and foolishness, and hard-earned self-knowledge, and baby steps towards redemption. It’s a story of people who aren’t aware of their own pride, until life finds them out and humbles them.
It’s just a lovely and real book. I think it comes out in mid-August. But look for it, buy it, read it. You won’t regret it.