Monday, August 25, 2008

Angel Falling Softly by Eugene Woodbury- Review

By Shirley Bahlmann
Vampires are people, too, with feelings just like us.
Well, almost.
Who says they should just hang out in the dark, remote region of Transylvania? Why not the suburbs of Salt Lake City, where they can learn the art of being a good neighbor, pay fast offerings, make passes at return missionaries, and bring children back from the dead?
Why not?
I’ve had the chance to read reviews of “Angel Falling Softly,” both pro and con. I’ve had friends refuse to review it. I wondered whether I should, but in my musings, the prism turned, and I saw the story a little differently than I did at first.
When I began reading this book with the mesmerizing cover, it was hard to put down. No matter what I was doing, I felt drawn to it. I even saw a slender, white haired young lady jogging around town, and thought of Milada Daranyi. (Is that a cool name, or what?)
About halfway through my reading, I realized this book was no fence sitter. Either you liked it, or you didn’t. I know card carrying Mormons who would slurp it up like ice cream and ask for more. I know other card carrying Mormons who wouldn’t get past the first arousal-before-blood-taking scene, which had my toes hanging over the line of acceptability, but pulled back before I tipped completely over the edge.
This book is not for everyone. Definitely not for anyone who can’t question the sanity of a bishop’s wife. In retrospect, the vampire. Milada, stuck to her morals, even showing an improvement over her early life when she became a vampire through no fault of her own. She goes to neighborhood barbecues. She shows compassion toward the original owner of a company she buys out. She no longer sucks people dry. And she can quote scripture as well as the bishop’s wife. After all, she was around when the monks were writing it all down.
To her credit, Milada balks at the outrageous request of the bishop’s wife. She doesn’t want to do the thing that was done to her. But neighbors are supposed to help each other when they can, right?
If there is any recoil to the storyline of this book, it should not be against the vampire, it should be against the bishop’s wife, who in her faithless, maniacal desperation to save her daughter, ends up losing her anyway. How ironic.
In other areas of the book, the stock market trading descriptions, though impressive, meant nearly nothing to me. The medical jargon was a little easier to follow, although it still seemed more obscure than I think it needed to be.
This is a highly imaginative novel. I would not put it on the shelf next to Gospel Doctrine, but it did have some interesting premises, such as the one the young daughter, Jennifer, put forth about vampires living such long lives (aging one year per century) so they have more time to prepare to meet God. Also, vampires in this book do not wither and die in the sun, nor do they sparkle. They get horrible sunburns that take at least three days to heal.


Shirley: Eugene, is that you? It's so dark on this Transylvania road that I'm not sure who I'm looking at. Oh, it is you. I'm so relieved. Thanks for meeting me here.
Eugene : Hey, it's a pleasure to talk with you. I actually have nothing against well-lit venues. As long as the UV index is below two.
Shirley: Well, it certainly is that. I have to admit, I’ve never read a book as daring as yours. What gave you the idea of writing about a vampire living in Salt Lake City?
Eugene : I've long been a fan of "Buffy" and "Angel," and writers like Annette Curtis Klause ("The Silver Kiss," "Blood and Chocolate") who construct plots that arise from the desire of vampires and werewolves to integrate into human society, to "live and let live." Add to that the "stranger in a strange land" motif. The genesis for "Angel Falling Softly" was a story titled "Blessing Giver" (there's a link to it on my bibliography page). It's about a bishop who asks a girl with supernatural powers to save the life of his son. It was written along the lines of Orson Scott Card's "Folk of the Fringe." I wanted to integrate these ideas and give the story a concrete, contemporary setting. When I was younger, I resisted basing my novels in Utah, thinking it too prosaic. But I finally came to the realization that the old adage is true: it's always best to write about what you know the best. And besides, to the "outside world," Utah can be one weird place.
Shirley: Duck! There's a bat! They don't really go for your hair, you know. Not unless there are bugs in it. Have you washed your hair recently? I don't want to be bat-swooped by association.
Eugene : A few years ago, I attended a family reunion at Lake George in upstate New York. My parents rented an old house--a decaying, gothic dump of a place--but large enough to put the extended family under one roof. I got there from the airport about midnight. And was woken up two hours later by a bat--I kid you not--flapping around my head. My sister named the bat "Harold." As it turned out, Harold was a tenant, though he and his pals usually stuck to the big family room downstairs. I switched to a room with better screens (and showered well.
Shirley: I love the name Milada Daranyi. Is she an old girlfriend of yours?
Eugene: The first thing I do when I get the idea for a novel is start collecting names. I found "Daranyi" in a book about Hungarian history. I wanted the names of the three sisters to have religious connections. "Milada" came specifically from the entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia about Prague (that Milada refers to in chapter 13).
Shirley: What made you think of the arousal before blood taking? Those scenes were, admittedly, kind of edgy for me.
Eugene: The intent was to maintain the metaphorical vampire/sex connection, but with a naturalistic/biological rationale underlying the vampirism. Plus an "economic" explanation for the specific behavior. Milada, like Rachel, is a rabid rationalizer, and rationalizes the sex/blood thing as a quid pro quo. She doesn't want to think of herself as a mere parasite. This, in turn, raises the moral stakes for Rachel (and the Mormon population in general). It also accentuates the differences between Milada and Kamilla. Kamilla works at breaking that connection and following a higher moral code, hence Milada snapping at her in chapter 17, "You're just sublimating."
Shirley: Interesting word. Wait… I see a lantern . . . someone's coming! Are they carrying pitchforks? Quick, hide! Have you heard the controversy about your book? Do you think anyone has reason to be upset about it?
Eugene: I waded into the fray on the LDS Publisher blog, and have commented about it on my blog. You can't dictate how people will react to something (though it'd be nice if they reacted on the basis of first-hand information). Still, I take a dim view of this hobby of offense-taking. True, you'll never run out of material and there's that one-year supply of righteous indignation in the basement. But the longer it goes on, the lower the bar gets, until everybody's offended at everybody for everything. I've got no problem with people who choose to avoid the book because of the subject matter or the (relative) explicitness of some of the content. We can agree to disagree on that point. Some objections, though, challenge the very premise of writing fiction, such as equating the author with his characters, or expecting them to reflect an ideal Mormon perspective. I greatly appreciate your observation that Rachel is a flawed person with a flawed view of the world. Not the archetype of the perfect bishop's wife. As I wrote on my blog, sure, it'd be nice if King Lear and Hamlet weren't so messed up. But the plays wouldn't have turned out the same.
Shirley: I see what you mean. A book without conflicted characters would be rather boring. Uh, oh. The light’s coming closer and closer! Oh. (laughs) It’s just the sun.
Wait a minute, Eugene, you’re shrinking. Ah! Shriveled arms! No, it can’t be – what’s happening? (flapping bat wings) Oh, there he goes, toward the belfry. Goodbye, Eugene! Sleep well.

· Paperback: 236 pages
· Publisher: Zarahemla Books (June 30, 2008)
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 0978797167
· ISBN-13: 978-0978797164
· Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
· Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
· Sales Rank: #805,936 in Books


Stacy G. Anderson said...


You certainly have a way with words,...even when it is controversial. I applaud your style and grace and am excited to see the review on The Santa Letters.

Hope all is well with you and your family!


Katie Parker said...

Thanks for the balanced review and delightful interview, Shirley.

Jewel Allen said...

Good review, Shirley. Thanks.

Cindy Beck, author said...

Good, well-balanced review, giving both the pros and cons of the books.

Loved the interview ... done with your usual hilarious sense of humor!

Jewel Allen said...

Good job on this review, Shirley. I am not as gutsy as you, showing the good and the not so good! That is why I don't post reviews normally on my blog, unless it is mentioned in the context of some other topic.

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