Review of The Book of Laman

September 11, 2017

Mette Harrison’s THE BOOK OF LAMAN, one of 3 new books by the newly launched BCC (By Common Consent) Press, may be a hard read for some. The titular character, Laman, is one that most Mormon readers will approach with negative preconceptions, and one that non-LDS readers will likely not recognize. He’s not a particularly sympathetic character either, a recluse who likes his drink and hates his father and lionized younger brother. The prose is a terse, clean modern style, very different from that of the Book of Mormon that inspired the story; and Harrison’s rendition of familiar Book of Mormon stories renders some of the heroes (namely Nephi and Lehi) in sometimes unflattering lights.

But it’s for all these reasons that the story is ultimately a compelling and important addition to the canon of Mormon literature. Laman is a putative villain here cast as a hero (or anti-hero if you prefer), a role that sits uneasily with him, as he sees himself as an ordinary man, largely unworthy of heroics or even redemption. He says of himself, “I wish that I had some hope of redemption, but I don’t see how.”

When the story opens, Laman and Lamuel have largely been supporting Sariah after Lehi abandons them for drink. When Lehi has a change of heart and returns home, Laman struggles, unsurprisingly, to accept that his father has truly changed—or that God has called him as a prophet. While orthodox readers may struggle with this reading of Lehi (I admit, I did at first), it also puts Lehi in company of other fallen men who go on to become prophets, and it helps explain some of Laman’s initial resistance to his father’s schemes. Experience has taught him to be skeptical.

As the family embarks into the wilderness, Laman, like his brothers, struggles to accept their new life, and to find his own faith. It’s clear that he yearns for the kind of faith Nephi has—a direct access to God. But he struggles to feel anything, to hear anything beyond his own thoughts. Still, as Laman falls in love and becomes a father, he begins to grow into the kind of man he wishes to be, and his transformation is both real and relatable.

For me, it’s precisely because Laman is so ordinary that his journey is moving. His story demonstrates that God loves everyone, not just the heroes and prophets. One of my favorite passages comes as an answer to prayer:

              “I love you, I heard without voice. Though you run from me. Though you do not trust me. Though you do not know my language and do not read of my words to others. Though you have evil thoughts. Though you hate your brothers and your father, who are my prophets. Though you will do evil all your days. Though you may not repent or grow wiser or kinder or greater than you are.

              “Still, I love you.”

Later, Laman reflects, “God needed prophets and leaders. But perhaps He needed me and Lemuel as well. The weak-minded, the easily frightened, the doubting. We were His children, even if we didn’t always want to be.”

Ultimately, The Book of Laman is a story of redemption, of a man who makes mistakes and sins, a man who loves his children and tries again, and fails repeatedly.  But he is also a man whom God does not forget. The stated aim of the BCC press is to “produc[e] affordable, high-quality books that help define and shape the Latter-day Saint experience”—and that experience, if it’s to be faithful, should include the sinners and the saints, the weak and the ultimately redeemable. The Book of Laman does just that.  

September 12, 2017