Thursday, December 17, 2015

"His Right Hand"

Mette Ivie Harrison is the critically acclaimed author of 8 YA books, including Mira, Mirror and The Princess and the Hound series. Her first adult novel, a mystery entitled The Bishop's Wife, is about a Mormon bishop's wife who is drawn into solving crime when a young wife and mother in her ward goes missing. Harrison writes a regular blog about faith and Mormonism at Huffington Post. She holds a PhD in Germanic Languages and Literatures from Princeton University and is a nationally ranked triathlete. She lives in Utah with her husband and five children. She is an active, practicing member of the Mormon church.

Harrison applied the Page 69 Test to His Right Hand, Book 2 in the Linda Wallheim Mormon Utah mystery series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
We went through the temple to receive our endowments together the day before the wedding. Most men would have gone through the temple ritual for adulthood before they went on missions, but a lot of women only went before they got married. We had little colored paper tags pinned to our clothing to mark us as first-timers, so people could help us and make sure we didn't make any mistakes in the ritual words or motions and handshakes.

I felt rattled by the ceremony, despite the fact that my mother was right at my side throughout. My father was a temple worker and he helped Ben bring me through the veil, since Ben was so nervous about it after just having gone through himself. Going through the veil is the final part of the ritual, where each person taking out their endowment speaks through a curtain with holes in it to someone representing God on the other side, offering names and tokens to prove worthiness. After the veil, we were allowed to go into the beautiful, open space of the "celestial room," which was meant to be like going to the highest part of heaven. The furnishings are always in white or beige colors, and there is a big chandelier overhead, and though you are allowed to talk, the woman feels nearly silent because mostly people sit and try to feel the Spirit of God and His love there.
This page is part of one of the big "reveals" of His Right Hand: Linda was married very young to another man, not Kurt Wallheim. I hinted at this in The Bishop's Wife, but few readers caught it during the church wedding ceremony with Jonathan and Perdita, which was disappointing to her parents because it wasn't in the temple. But Linda and Kurt were also married in the church rather than the temple. Because of her previous marriage issues, she had to wait a year to be sealed to Kurt in the Mormon temple because she had to wait for her first sealing to be dissolved by the First Presidency of the Mormon church, a lengthy and by no means guaranteed process.

But Linda's marriage to Ben is a disaster, as she eventually realizes that he is likely gay (not something he ever admits to, but she guesses at based on his lack of interest in having sex with her and his looks at other men). She spends months trying to understand homosexuality and trying to save her marriage, but finally divorces Ben and her very strict Mormon family blames her for the choice and it causes a rift with them forever afterward. When one of her sons also comes out as gay in His Right Hand, Linda is forced to confront her old feelings about the Mormon church's teachings about homosexuality, her past with her former husband, and the life she might have lived, which doesn't seem very different from the life of Emma Ashby, married to a transgender man Carl Ashby, with all the secrets that he held back from her.

Page 69 is also an explanation of the Mormon temple ritual, the "endowment," which is secret and sacred and not talked about outside of the temple itself, even among members. I tried to be respectful of the ceremony, not revealing the details, but still allowing non-Mormons a peek into what it is about. I will probably get plenty of angry Mormon readers who think I should not talk about it even this much. That seems to be par for the course with this series. There are a lot of unwritten rules about what a Mormon can say about the church and how to say it. Mormons are uncomfortable with the lack of "testimony-bearing" I bring to the church. Linda is a believer, but she's also capable of taking a step back and she narrates the book as if to non-members, with a factual, but intimate kind of Mormon anthropology.
Visit Mette Ivie Harrison's website.

Writers Read: Mette Ivie Harrison (January 2015).

--Marshal Zeringue