Bound on Earth
Parables Publishing, February 2008
Softcover, 197 Pages
Angela Hallstrom’s debut novel Bound on Earth fleshes out the fiction and nonfiction of marriage and family. Through a series of vignettes written from the perspective of different members of the Palmer family (mother, daughter, father, grandparents and others), the book allows its reader to discover the texture of being bound to those we love. It describes what happens between “I do” and our final whispers, the price of raising and losing children, the toll of mental and physical illness, and the not-so-black-and-white choice to leave or to remain. Reading the novel was like looking in a fun-house mirror. I recognized a faint double of myself but it was distorted, turned upside down, made shorter, taller, extended through time and tested. This book does what good fiction should do–distort reality just enough to tell the truth.
It is difficult to find an LDS novel that adequately communicates the nuance that fills the dusty corners of our lives–that faces the reality that we must become perfect even in our imperfection. And there were moments in the novel where I thought it might easily descend into trite summaries of belief. It never did.
The most powerful image of the book is found in the concept of ‘being bound.’ At first, I felt like telling the characters to run away from their bonds, quickly and deftly, in an act of self-preservation. However, the book artfully aided my discovery that our bonds can teach us where and how to grow.
It is in this imagery of ‘being bound’ that I found my one critique. The dominance of this theme left me wanting a richer subtext of symbols to decode. I wanted more ambiguity that would keep me returning to the text. But even with this weakness, the author succeeds at articulating intimate truth and helps us uncover a maze of complicated emotions. For instance, when Beth’s mother peeks through a bedroom door and sees her daughter and her daughter’s husband, she comments, “They are curled towards each other, sleeping, their heads almost touching and Beth’s arm slung loosely across Kyle’s side. Seeing them reminds me how difficult it is for two bodies, even sleeping, to face each other and not turn away (187).” The act of facing each other, constantly resisting turning away is what this novel is about, and if that is the lesson to be learned from the book, then that is good enough for a return visit.
As I discovered when I started researching genealogy, a family’s story is never adequately told through a linear genealogical chart. Histories and narratives are needed for elucidation but often lead to other questions waiting to be answered. In a way, Angela Hallstrom’s novel says what most genealogical documents will never say. However, maybe they should because many of these characters seem as real as the paper that I gripped when reading about them, as tangible as the warm hug that I receive from my toddler as he climbs into my bed at dark o’clock, and as vivid as the man I wake up to every morning, ever more a mystery to me especially when I think I have him figured out.