Where Nothing Is Long Ago
Memories of a Mormon Childhood
Signature Mormon Classics Series No. 4
by Virginia Sorensen
Susan Elizabeth Howe, foreword
Paperback / 220 pages / 1-56085-102-3 / $14.95
The stories of Where Nothing Is Long Ago are a celebration of Sorensen’s childhood. She wrote most of them in 1962 while she stayed eight months with her father in Springville, Utah, after her sister’s death. (The title story and “The Face” had been published earlier in The New Yorker.) The narrator of each story is an adult remembering her experiences as a child and narrating events from the child’s perspective, so the stories are often about the child’s attempt to understand the values of her community.
Several stories center on the community’s response to an individual who is in some way an outsider—a polygamous wife who has been left alone after the 1890 Manifesto ostensibly banned such marriages; a black family from Tennessee, directed to Manti by one of the town’s missionaries; a woman whose husband has fallen away from the faith—and the child’s observations of the behavior of town members towards this outsider. Why, for example, are members of the community more sympathetic to the man who killed Lena’s husband than they are to Lena? Why do they so distrust “the Negro”? Why is “the darling lady” all alone in her little store? Why doesn’t she have a family? Other stories are stories of initiation—sometimes into the pleasures and pains of growing up, but other times into the adult knowledge of death and loss and destructive human behavior. In her Newbery Award acceptance speech, Sorensen says, “[A] story has its own being and . . . if one tells it true, and to the very end, there is always death in it.”
Some of these stories will be enthralling to children as well as to adult readers—”First Love,” “The White Horse,” “The Vision of Uncle Lars,” and “The Secret Summer.” But many depend on the reader’s ability to recognize the ironic distance between the child’s perception and the meaning of the incidents to the narrator or to the adult characters.
Virginia Sorensen is a masterful storyteller. Her mother said that the first sentence she remembered Virginia saying was “Tell me a story,” and the second was, “I will tell you a story,” which Virginia proceeded to do. She spent a lifetime telling stories, many of which she offered to her Mormon community as their own. She once said, “I suppose I get more pleasure out of being noticed by the Mormons than by anybody else.”
Virginia Sorensen was born in Provo, Utah, and lived much of her adult life in Morocco and Florida with her husband, British novelist Alec Waugh. She is the distinguished author of eight novels (see, for instance, A Little Lower than the Angels), a collection of short stories (Where Nothing Is Long Ago: Memories of a Mormon Childhood), and as many children’s books; and winner of the Newberry Medal, an O. Henry award, and two Guggenheim fellowships. She spent a lifetime telling stories, many of which she offered to her Mormon community as their own. Literary critics have hailed her as “Utah’s First Lady of Letters.” She died in 1991.
Susan Elizabeth Howe, author of Stone Spirits: Poems, completed her Ph.D. in English and creative writing at the University of Denver. (She made up the middle name to distinguish herself from Susan Howe, the language poet.) Over the years she has studied with Dave Smith, Bin Ramke, Donald Revell, Mark Jarman, and Carolyn Kizer. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Southwest Review, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, and other journals, and she has worked as the editor of Exponent II, the managing editor of The Denver Quarterly, and the former poetry editor of Dialogue. She is a contributor to Where Nothing Is Long Ago: Memories of a Mormon Childhood. She describes herself as a Mormon feminist who is enthusiastic about Diet Pepsi, the landscape of Southern Utah, and the Sundance Film Festival. She currently lives in Utah Valley with her dog Griffin.