Jane Barnes begins the novel about her effort to discover who Joseph Smith was, by describing him as a playful prophet, largely illiterate. At various times in his life, he has told and written many different versions of his meetings with G-d, Christ and the angel Moroni. At some point, he even admits to lying. He began his visions in 1932, and there were 7 incantations, but the 1938 version is the accepted Book of Mormon. He supposedly translated it from what he read inside his hat. Barnes believes that might have been a play on words, ‘talking into one’s hat, old hat, new hat’, etc. I began to think, if that was a play on words, by a mischievous child, could it be that the name of the angel was also? It was dangerously close to the word moron! From there we get to Mormon, which could also be a play on the words “more man”. Well, those were just my thoughts from her presentation. I mean no disrespect. What happens to transform the author into more of a believer is the subject of this book.
She describes a comical caricature of a man who, as he matures, descends into a frenzied, disjointed, maddening kind of overwhelming existence, so I am not sure where she is going with her thoughts or why she suddenly wants to become a follower, unless she thinks this is the kind of religion one can easily adapt themselves to, which may or may not, in the eye of some readers, actually lend truth to the theory that Mormonism is really more like a cult, than a religion.
On page 10, I began to wonder if I could continue to read the book. She describes the blackness of headache pain which overcame her on her way to a Mormon church. She describes this as her epiphany, as the beginning of her thoughts about conversion. Can I actually believe this? She shares her own life's experiences, as she grew up and also talks about little miraculous events in the weeks prior to her "conversion", with things disappearing and suddenly reappearing. We have all experienced such moments of déjà vu, when we discovered something in a place we had previously looked and declared it still missing, but we don't often consider them epiphanies or miracles, but more like coincidences instead. She seemed to me, to be taking that kind of thought a step too far, and she, too, also appeared to have had a life filled with varying moments of dysfunction.
I did agree with her about her first realization, that this life is only part of it, that later will come something else for all of us. I think that is the hope at the heart of most religions; there is the promise of an afterlife, hopefully better than the one before!
Although she admits to being profoundly affected by her research, her presentation seems to be a parody on the religion, rather than an investigation of its origins and strengths. Since she is working on a documentary for PBS, a station with a rather liberal bent, I toyed with the thought that she was a plant from the left, trying to affect the coming election between Obama and Romney. She makes the religion sound not only comical, but a bit insane. She describes a religion developed by a young boy, who, with his entire family, sounds a bit unstable. They see visions, use peep stones, believe in magic, etc. When the author herself admits she has had similar experiences, I found it hard to keep a straight face as I continued. By the time I reached about page 50, I simply had to skim the rest. I don't often give up on a book, but this seemed to be going in circles, leading me nowhere and the narrative was completely unfathomable to me. I am sorry, but I did abandon it.