Over the years, plenty of Utahs-pawned literature has been the product of disillusionment with the LDS Church. There have been memoirs and fictional tales, some mournful and some bitter, an entire subgenre of recovering Mormons working out their issues. You may have seen some of them before, and you may think there’s nothing new under the post-Mo sun. But I will say this about the new novel 2: It is almost certain you have never read anything as bat-shit crazy.
Evan Twede (see Q&A below)—writing under the nom de plume Evan Lord—presents what at first seems like a standard-issue missionary journal by Elder Ewan Ladd. Elder Ladd turns 19 years old in 1977 and, soon thereafter, launches himself on his way toward a mission in West Germany, despite being something of a rebel. He makes waves at the Missionary Training Center; he experiences some culture shock; he shares anecdotes about his friendships (or lack thereof) with various companions; he begins to have his doubts about why he’s doing what he’s doing, despite raging success in the baptisms department. So far, so typical.
But Elder Ladd has one particularly noteworthy experience: an afternoon spent with a mysterious “giant” named Cadeau. And over the course of that afternoon—parceled out in flashback snippets over the course of the novel—Cadeau reveals many great, mind-boggling truths to the elder. At times, these revelations play out like a compendium of challenges to Mormon and other Christian doctrine—addressing improbable similarities between Book of Mormon passages and certain ancient texts, challenging the idea of just how heavenly the Mormon conception of heaven would actually be, etc. At other times, Cadeau—and later, his like-minded comrades—wants to blow the dude’s mind with a tale of human origins involving alien colonization and the human potential for godhood. As a prophet of enlightenment, he’s like The Matrix’s Morpheus crossed with Scientology’s L. Ron Hubbard.
And as flat-out bizarre as the combination of these disparate elements may be, there’s no denying that it also results in something compulsively page-turning. As Elder Ladd approaches the end of his mission and begins a furtive relationship with his mission president’s daughter, 2 leaps into an even more intensive brand of New Age-philosophizing that makes sure to include sex in the equation for understanding the ultimate creative force through orgasmic transcendence. People literally walk on water or inhale an otherworldly snuff that allows glimpses of the infinite. Maybe. Or maybe it’s all a dream. Or maybe it’s all what happens when you wake up from the dream. Whoooooaa.
The strangest thing is, the core ideas are actually kind of compelling when you strip away the psychedelia. What is the value of obedience as a spiritual discipline? And what should we expect the Paradise of a loving, creative God to look like? As a piece of writing, 2 may need to engage in the didacticism typical of Conversations With God-type explorations, and you may find yourself laughing out loud at its more out-there conceits. But you’re gonna remember it. 2 makes for two weird tastes that taste even weirder together.
By Evan Lord
Two Lords Press
Evan Twede ... er, Lord ... er, Ladd
In the 1980s, Evan Twede, aka Evan Lord, contributed editorial cartoons for City Weekly’s precursor Private Eye. Since then, he has run a Salt Lake City advertising agency and served as a political strategist primarily for Republican candidates.
City Weekly: How much autobiography is in your book?
Evan Twede: I built in as many layers of separation as possible to protect the privacy of those I interacted with 30 years ago. The pressures of mission life spin each of us in every conceivable direction. We all did things we laugh and cringe about now. I drew heavily from experience and took liberties with the facts.
CW: What readings or experiences most influenced the philosophical/religious system described by Cadeau?
ET: There are things covered in 2 that I’ve never encountered in other readings, though I believe many of us are saying the same things in different ways. My goal … was to present the type of religious experience glorified in scripture, broken down into pedestrian terms. Nothing I’ve ever encountered in scripture has sounded anything like a supreme being—which led me to ask, “Who was doing all the talking to those people?” I was curious to know what God would say to us, if indeed God existed and gave a rat.
CW: At times, the combination of the straightforward missionary memoir and the spiritual ideas seems like an odd mix. Did you ever consider exploring these ideas through another type of story?
ET: On one level, it’s an honest portrayal of what it was like [as a missionary] out there for me. 2 is also a classic quest adventure peopled with all of the usual personalities and a few new ones. … 2 is
the missionary discussions for a “de-ligion” that regards all people as
equals with valid points of view. It is my thinking alone, and I’m not
seeking converts. I had something to say, and I said it my way.