My Whole Expanse I Cannot See…

I formulate infinity stored deep inside of me…

Sep 14

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance

Category: Life,Opinions

When I was in New York a few months ago i met this writer, Elna Baker. She’s behind my favorite This American Life story, Babies Buying Babies. At first glance she’s young, beautiful. Talking to her it’s obvious she’s smart, funny, liberal. What’s not obvious about her, at least right away, is that she’s a Mormon. She’s a single Mormon girl trying to make it in the big city. As I said, she’s a writer, and her first book is a memoir.

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker is an intimate look into her life after leaving home and family to make a life in New York city. The memoir begins as Elna is preparing to leave home to start college at NYU. Her family’s quite worried about her, not for all the obvious reasons, they’re afraid for her immortal soul. Her mom is particularly concerned, afraid that New York will defile her lovely, overweight, completely innocent daughter. See, Elna’s family is very Mormon. Her mom’s biggest worry is that Elna will move away, find liquor, then drugs, and then become a lesbian. Because, obviously, vices lead to lots of really hot lesbian sex. Elna’s mom warns her of clubs where men pay larger women money to undress. She tells her, “don’t do that.” This is the sort of lecture a Mormon girl gets before college, don’t become a junkie lesbian stripper. Elna may be sheltered, but she’s not naive. She’s aware that her mom’s warnings are hilariously over the top, and she writes about her family, her upbringing and herself with wit and sincerity.

Being a single Mormon means Elna’s a virgin. She’s supposed to abstain until marriage, and if she wants to go to Heaven, she has to merry a Mormon fellow in a Mormon Temple. This would be fine, except for the fact that she’s a crazy romantic, very free spirited and has a good dose of sexual desire. Okay, a double dose of sexual desire. This memoir is about her desire to live life on her terms while remaining faithful to God and church. Juggling faith, and longing, and lust, it’s not an easy task. Elna writes about her stints on the Mormon singles scene, particularly the New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, a room full of awkward virgins looking to find a mate. Elna’s kind of an outsider among Mormons, she questions things. She doesn’t blindly follow what others buy so easily. She plays the Mormon singles game, but she knows it’s absurd. She’s able to write about her search for intimacy with such humor and clarity. It doesn’t help that most Mormon guys, are apparently, dorks. It’s difficult for Elna, who’s very well read, intelligent and spontaneous, to find an even remotely acceptable suitor within her faith. Dating outside the faith is difficult because no matter how much she might care for a guy, being with him goes against everything she was raised to believe. Throughout the book we watch her beliefs shift, they change as she matures. She loses eighty pounds, she sees herself differently, as do all the fellows in New York. She’s young and hot, and shackled to a belief system that she might not believe. She never doubts that God exists, but she definitely questions how she was taught to serve Him.

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker is a smart, funny and interesting look into the life of a young lady trying to balance passion and faith. She wants to get laid, without damning her soul.


12 Comments so far

  1. Nancy September 14th, 2009 3:01 am

    i only WISH vices led to lots of hot lesbian sex.

  2. Rachel September 14th, 2009 6:22 am

    Spoiler: she becomes a junkie lesbian stripper?

  3. swartzfeger September 14th, 2009 8:23 am

    Interesting story, Mike. I’ve just spent the last 3 months as an ‘investigator’ — in LDS parlance, someone who’s considering joining the church. I really was doing it for a weekly support group hosted by the local (only) Mormon church in town. I occasionally attended church or helped with church functions out of thanks for hosting the non-denominational support group. As a writer, I was also doing it out of intense curiosity of being around people that were so similar yet so different.

    For starters, I’ve never met a kinder group of people that will mobilize at a moment’s notice if someone needs help. Mormons put rubber to the road, flat out. As a Roman Catholic, I’ve attended non-Catholic functions or retreats in the past and have definitely been informed that my presence as a Catholic was ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘inappropriate.’ Interestingly enough, this has never been the case with non-Christian religions, such as Jews or Sikhs. LDS members were nothing but warm and welcoming (not like hey dude, let’s go out for a beer and get fucked up welcoming, but hey dude, let’s try my wife’s killer jello recipe welcoming).

    Dorks — this is kind of a tough call. Dorks in the sense that Mormons aren’t necessarily marinated in our 24/7 culture of cynicism. Dorks in the sense of not dropping the F-bomb every 30 seconds like yours truly, looking for new/creative ways to string together expletives to relieve my tourette’s. One Saturday afternoon I helped the local missionaries move an out-of-state couple into their new home. The Bishop of the ward showed up to lend a hand, riding a motorcycle and wearing a Simpsons t-shirt.

    I really dug into LDS scripture and beyond, even going into LDS esoterica/apocrypha like the King Follet discourse (which most mainstream LDSers have never even heard of). I’ll say this — LDS doesn’t discourage questioning or scrutiny… they actively encourage it. I will say that there’s not an inch of wiggle room for challenging it. The church is the family, and vice versa. I couldn’t imagine being a GLBTQI Mormon… you’re not only losing your family now, but for *eternity*.

    It was an interesting few months I spent with the local LDS. Their faith is inspiring and yet in some ways, frightening.

  4. Apes September 14th, 2009 12:15 pm

    i need this boooooook!!!

  5. Hadleyphoto September 15th, 2009 1:35 am

    I would love to read this. There is a great book by Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air and Into the Wild – both excellent) called Under the Banner of Heaven, which goes into the fundamentalist mormons today and how screwed up their society is. It is really heavy, but interesting. On a lighter note, the NY Times has these amazing little poignant videos called “One in 8 Million – They are sort of TAL pieces with photos. Anyhow, there is a nice one about a woman who left her Hassidic jewish community. Her name is rivka_karasik, check it out!

  6. Just_Kelly September 16th, 2009 9:43 am

    I’m a member that constantly struggles with what the girl in this book sounds like she is struggling with. “kind of an outsider among Mormons, she questions things. She doesn’t blindly follow what others buy so easily.” And the fact I’m choosing to advance my career at 26 instead of have children is **gasp** unconcevable to many in my church.

    I always say I feel like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Still, I refuse to let others dictate how I feel, what I think, or how I behave.

    Def going to pick this book up.

  7. Gabriele September 16th, 2009 6:36 pm

    Great review Mike. Wonder whether this would be a great discussion starter in the little old ladies book club?

  8. Carin Channing September 18th, 2009 12:12 am

    IJWTS that I caught that episode of This American Life and LOVED it. She’s brilliant.

  9. Courtney September 19th, 2009 3:01 am

    I think I may be the Baptist version of Elna Baker…or some dim offshoot.

  10. Andy Hatch October 3rd, 2009 5:22 am

    As an ex-Mormon from birth(and recovering dork), this is a very apt description. (And I just discovered ‘This American Life’ and this episode blew my mind). Without going into great lengths, naivete is bred into Mormons from birth. Those that can resist it can make it out, but my other 5 siblings are certainly lifers. It’s not easy. The way out is tough, but if you read Bertrand Russell’s ‘Why I’m not a Christian’, you get the gist of how some make it out.

    Also, my choice of voiceovers was IDENTICAL, with the exception of adding Tom Waits 🙂

  11. Josh November 11th, 2009 7:38 pm

    “She doesn’t blindly follow what others buy so easily.”

    “Without going into great lengths, naivete is bred into Mormons from birth.”

    Guys, really? Let’s ease up on the stereotypes just a bit, shall we? Many (most) of Elna’s readers/admirers are folks just like her– smart, thinking people who have genuine religious experiences (or what they believe to be genuine religious experiences) and are trying to live as they believe God wants them to in a world that doesn’t see it the same.

    People who assume all Mormons are naieve or don’t spend much time thinking about their faith are, quite simply, completely clueless. I would wager that Mormons spend (on average, alas, there are plenty unthinking ones– as there are in any faith tradition, including atheism) far more time asking the “big questions” than most people do, and is not even close.

    Try to open your minds to the possibility that someone could consider carefully on the big questions and come to a different conclusion than you do. That kind of intolerance doesn’t help anyone.

  12. Kaleena December 8th, 2009 2:40 pm

    I just finished reading this and I love, love, LOVE this book. This book is so far my most favoritest read of the year (so far). I highly recommend reading this book. And it’s fast to read and hilarious too!