Growing Up Mormon

The Latter Days

by Judith Freeman

Judith Freeman thinks back over her upbringing in a Mormon community, seeking the threads that led her to become a writer and how her younger years influence and reappear in her writing, as it does, for instance, in her first novel, The Chinchilla Farm. (Oddly, in direct contradiction of her bio in the book itself, the dust jacket notes that she is at work on her first novel, an error the publisher hopefully will correct in a reprint or a trade edition.)

Her young life proved eventful by anyone’s definition: youthful marriage, the challenge of a very ill child, divorce, a long-term affair with a famous heart surgeon, and estrangement from her religion. However, what really stands out and what most readers will find fascinating is the picture she paints of growing up Mormon in Ogden, Utah, for then (she was born in 1946), as probably now, it was a place unto itself, unique in comparison to other places in the U.S.

Mormon beliefs and the church comprised the central feature of her upbringing. She came from a large family, though not nearly as large as other Mormon families. Living in a large family comes with its own set of issues, not the least of which revolve around your place in the lineup and feelings of affection from your parents. Even more though, and something many might at first blush find comforting but upon reflection might understand as stifling was the dominance of community in everyday life. For, in contrast to most religions in this country, Mormonism is all encompassing, an inescapable feature of living; in other words, it’s not something you visit only on Sundays. How such community bears down on living and maturing, how it restricts individuality and promotes a very strong sense of group and group thinking, comes through in Freeman’s remembrances.

Freeman writes cleanly and simply and, thus, brings emotional power to many of the events of her life, and might have you seeking out her novels. And while she grew up as a Mormon, nonetheless, family and religious beliefs exert an influence on most people. Many of these people, in conscious ways and through drift, move beyond these powerful influences of their youth. It’s this relatable story that Freeman tells so effectively. w/c

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