COMMENTARY 

"Just as God's eye is on the sparrow, Julie Nichols's clear-sighted, penetrating eye is on the lives of Mormon women and men and our yearnings and shortcomings.  This memorable collection of finely crafted stories helps us both see ourselves and our world better and feel seen by one of our own.  Nichols is an important, unfailing talent whose work as a writer and teacher of writers blesses our community." 

—Joanna Brooks, Book of Mormon Girl 

These linked stories, unlike the mass of Mormon fiction, blend insider and outsider perspectives—warp and weft of a tight weave. They are consistently faithful and questioning, intelligent and spiritual, essentially Mormon and essentially inclusive of those who inhabit the fringe. Ethically sound, each story has a narrator who is harmless as a dove and wise as a serpent. Through this alchemy of opposites, the reader is borne to the edge of mystery, to a condition of “puzzlement and love.” –John Bennion, professor of writing at BYU, author of Breeding Leah and other Stories (Signature Books, 1991), Falling Toward Heaven (Signature Books, 2000), and many other works.

'Nichols is one of those rare writers who understands the complexity of faith: the way it can haunt as well as enchant and its potential to hurt as well as heal. In this intricately patterned collection she addresses the violence, mystery and most of all the messy beauty, of marriage, motherhood, love and forgiveness in a lush, lyrical prose which honours the magical in the everyday.' 

—Jenn Ashworth, The Friday Gospels 

In her multi-generational, debut collection of short stories, Julie Nichols explores the changes in personal relationships and in the LDS Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, over four decades.  This collection, which can also be read as a novel, delves into issues often ignored and avoided by LDS families and their culture and offers both insights and empathy.  Through these stories, Julie makes an open and invaluable contribution to the ongoing dialogue surrounding the many much-needed transformations.

—Sue Booth-Forbes, Director
Anam Cara Writer's and Artist's Retreat
Eyeries, Beara, Co. Cork, Ireland
http://www.anamcararetreat.com/

What struck me most was Nichols’s ability to portray an array of characters with such a lucid eye and heart. Every character is compelling and sympathetic, yet also distinctly flawed and morally blind. As an author, she stands back just far enough to see her characters a little better than they see themselves. Their talents are a gift to some and a cause of grief to others. Their sorrows are often generated by their own “crimes,” yet their suffering is real and deserves mitigation. Their desires are legitimate, yet every addition is also a subtraction. The calculus of love and co-existence, the book suggests, never reaches an ultimate tally. As readers, we are required to suspend sweeping moral judgment as events unfold. The stories invite us to break grand concepts down to the relational and minute. We are asked to ponder human circumstance, history, and, best of all, potential.  

Nichols’s portrayal of inter-related human beings who cause each other to evolve over time and propinquity is one of the most warmly unsentimental and incisive definitions of “family” I have ever read. The book’s emotional cache is reserved for the characters themselves—a sequence of mothers who, despite their human limitations, manage to call down the sheer power of the cosmos when their forces combine. A configuration of damaged children who rise to moments of truce with the damaged people who raised them. Fathers who are not up to the task but shoulder it and learn. I felt deeply nourished by oblique moments of healing contact among people in unlikely or reluctant alliance. 

The clean, no-nonsense voice infuses the strong women of the story with an affinity that exceeds the boundaries of the story. The women in the book do not always see themselves as made alike—but it is, quite wonderfully, in their moments of deepest disavowal that they reveal their integral sisterhood. The voice covers for them, knows them to the molecules, and claims them even when they cannot find themselves. 

The language is sharp and sometimes wildly funny. Maybe my favorite sentence of the whole ms: "Here she was driving across a gorge on a two-lane bridge, air on either side and white water below, with a crazed and fragrant poet tapping a pen on the armrest between them.” Kept going back to it! Sentence envy!

The story resides in a universe of equal-opportunity access to mystery. There’s something about the point of view that’s true of the characterizations (everyone at eye-level, a flattening of cultural hierarchies as we see every character on the ground, face-to-face) and of the portrayals of power. True healing forces, in this narrative, do not compete. Rather, they combine and collaborate, at least when they are most efficacious. Within the first few pages, I was not only willing, but delighted, to suspend my own (painful) cynicism and simply follow the mystical premises of the story to their beautiful destinations. In that way, reading the narrative was a kind of healing sequence—it’s a retreat, a sacred space for reconsideration and reflection. 

It’s a beautiful novel…

—Karin Anderson, breach: a narrative

 

Pigs When They Straddle the Air
By Julie J. Nichols