Everyone Needs a Sense of Order

Jack Harrell A Sense of Order We noticed that some of our best authors are from Idaho. Apperently, conditions in rural Idaho are ideal for writing. Hemmingway escaped “across the river and into the trees,” to quote one of his books, to spend his last days there. Edgar Rice Burroughs sold cigars and stationery in a little shop in Pocatello. Ezra Pound was born in Hailey. Vardis Fisher lived near Rigby. Patrick McManus learned to read in a log cabin in Sandpoint.

Writing from a faculty office in Rexburg, Jack Harrell draws on a long tradition of Western literati. His town is a postcard-perfect community of 17,000, not counting the on-campus students.

In his book, Harrell imagines people confronting circumstances for which they’re unprepared, with odd hints of supernatural forces and a contest between human will and fate. His new book just out, A Sense of Order is ironically named because the title story is about a suicide.

Harrell is Mormon, which makes sense to some readers and surprises others. “I write about people and what happens to them,” he says. “Certainly my faith informs my writing, and so does my location and my own personal background, both as a writer and as a person.”

In one of Harrell’s stories, there is a meeting in the middle of the night at a train trestle, reminiscent of a meeting with the devil at a crossroads. A stranger appears and offers an end to the man’s dysfunctional marriage. The man can start over with another woman who will really love him. It is too tempting, and the man agrees, not knowing his wife has also met the stranger. What was her answer? Who is the stranger? Is it a devil or an interloper? Where does reality end and fantasy begin? What’s going on here?

Harrell creates spaces where divine grace can cover lost souls like a thick heavy blanket, or situations where consequences spiral out of control and the end results are devastating. People experience the difference between accepting the aftermath of chasing a dream and the disaster of getting exactly what they wish for.

In advance reviews, Angela Hallstrom, editor of the Mormon literary magazine Irreantum, says Harrell’s book is “a knockout achievement that leaves the reader reeling.” Thomas Rogers, a celebrated Utah author, known especially for his stage play Huebener, believes that “Jack Harrell’s fiction is the finest we’ve seen by a Mormon author. He is a convert rather than a hot-house Mormon, which explains how he can so strikingly conjure both ‘the darkest abyss’ and ‘the utmost heavens.’ Writing about redneck cowboys or more urbane souls, his creations are believable, his prose impressive, his imagery captivating, and his plot turns unexpected. He is unrivaled among LDS authors.”

After one or two of these stories, readers will be pacing the floor, trying to determine for themselves what is real and what is fiction.