Friday, December 4, 2015

Selling Armageddon By the Yard

Rebecca Belliston, Life (Citizens of Logan Pond, Volume 1)

After the banks collapsed and President Rigsby seized absolute authority, the families around Logan Pond banded together. Five years on, Carrie Ashworth, only twenty-three, is raising her orphaned siblings, growing her people’s garden, and running interference with patrolman (read: stormtrooper) Oliver Simmons. But two new members, in a clan that’s been steady for five years, causes friction, made only worse when a government raid jeopardizes the community.

Rebecca Belliston’s third thriller starts well. (The second volume, already published, is entitled Liberty. Guess where we’re headed.) Belliston avoids stock Tea Party clich├ęs about government overreach, preferring to present engaging characters enacting a complex story. But problems arise as the story progresses. Important story elements begin feeling uncomfortably familiar, and the narrative becomes distinctly preachy. Then, in a sudden Blaze, I realized where my concerns originated.

Carrie and the Logan Pond clan have established their outlaw clan around a suburban cul-de-sac outside Auburn, Illinois. This premise uncomfortably resembles NBC’s ill-fated series Revolution, but Belliston avoids showrunner Eric Kripke’s swinging machismo. Carrie’s extended clan has established an equilibrium of domestic tranquility, growing crops and stealthily evading government involvement. They enjoy a pleasant semi-libertarian balance despite America’s suspended Constitution.

One rainy evening, Mariah Pierce and her son Greg suddenly appear, disrupting the balance. Mariah wants to live peaceably with this extended clan, but handsome, bitter Greg has powerful anti-establishment desires. Notwithstanding his relentlessly bad attitude, Logan Pond evidently wants to decorate the chapel for Greg and Carrie, since they haven’t seen a marriage-aged bachelor in years. Sadly, the young adults get along like gasoline and matches.

Rebecca Belliston
I enjoyed the first hundred pages or so. Despite the enforced Edward-and-Bella dynamic between the leads, I found the premise and characters engaging, and wanted to like them. Okay, characters occasionally start unnecessary debates about whether to receive society’s collapse with stoicism or radical rebellion, and the government Belliston proposes seems profoundly impractical. But her engaging characters and sophisticated story make forgiving such lapses comparatively easy.

Then, somewhere after page 100, things change. Local patrolmen raid Logan Pond, seeking undocumented residents for the work camps. Yes, work camps; Belliston’s World War II metaphors aren’t subtle. Though everyone escapes, they lose property, crops, and sense of security. Suddenly, the once-peaceful community starts talking Greg’s radical language, while shy, moonstruck Patrolman Oliver desperately scrambles to repair his patched relationship with Carrie. The novel’s tone abruptly shifts.

Besides becoming more confrontational, Belliston’s characters begin a sudden tendency toward monologues. Both spoken and internal, these monologues turn on how Logan Pond should confront an intrusive government that disregards rule of law. These diatribes and debates seemed remarkably familiar. Desperate to understand where I’d heard these arguments before, I Googled Rebecca Belliston. Turns out she’s a prominent Mormon with a parallel career composing LDS worship music.

And I realized: the White Horse Prophecy.

Current LDS leadership considers the White Horse Prophecy apocryphal and doesn’t accord it Scriptural legitimacy. However, it remains influential in Mormon political circles. Supposedly, Joseph Smith received a prophecy correlating his nascent church with the White Horse of the Revelation, and foretelling that, one day, the US Constitution would hang “as by a thread.” (Mormons consider the Constitution divinely inspired.) Then the White Horse will ride in, heroically restoring order.

Several public Mormons, Glenn Beck chief among them, embrace the White Horse Prophecy as instrumental to their political and social mores. They see change as corruption, activism as Godlessness, and the Democratic Party as forerunner to biblical Armageddon. This dynamic lionizes outsidership as proof of integrity, and positions religious conservatives as bulwarks against overwhelming secularized rot. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more marginalized you are, the more right you are.

Like Stephanie Meyer, Rebecca Belliston uses little or no religious language in her writing. Yet her spiritual heritage shines through her prose, from the chaste romance and studiously mild language, to the sanctification of outsider status, to the belief in the despised community restoring Nineteenth Century values. Belliston starts well, but quickly becomes predictable. What starts as an engaging character-driven dystopian story quickly unwinds into a semi-religious Libertarian political tract.

I suppose, in writing socially engaged fiction, the author’s beliefs will unconsciously inform the story. Should I write a post-apocalyptic dystopia (hey agents, I have a manuscript), it would reflect my Distributist values. I just wish Belliston had permitted her characters to drive her story, rather than yoking them to her beliefs. Because I really enjoyed this story, right up until the moment the author got in her own way.

No comments:

Post a Comment