The provocative title and the angry backlash of negative reviews made me curious about this book. As a former Mormon, I thought I’d be able to connect in a unique way with Leave Me Alone: Memoirs of an ExMormon. I also considered that I was probably part of the target audience and that I’d be better able to appreciate it than some of the more irate Amazon reviewers. The description of its style as “a new trans-genre form that combines short stories, short prose, and poetry” also sounded particularly promising, so I downloaded it and dug in.
The Concept: C+
I think most of my dissatisfaction with the concept stems from the fact that it simply didn’t match the advertising. The concept was fine on its face, but I guess the description led me to expect something with a much more avante-garde feel to it. Leave Me Alone is essentially a collection of short stories ostensibly taken from Hewson’s personal past followed by a collection of poems.
It’s probably not entirely fair to grade a work too heavily based on whether the product looks like the picture on the packaging, but I was a little disappointed with how groundbreaking the book’s narrative form wasn’t. That being said, it certainly has a literary quality to it and many of the stories are fascinating, gripping, and emotionally charged.
Another common complaint from the reviewers that I agree with is that the overwhelming majority of this book does nothing to directly address being either Mormon or ex-Mormon. While many of the issues covered are things that other ex-Mormons can identify as being similar to their own struggles and many of the conflicts can trace their causes back to Mormonism, the connection between the content of the book and the title of the book can be fairly dismissed as “subtle” by an ex-Mormon or “virtually non-existent” by someone still devoted to the faith.
The Execution: B
All issues with the title and the sales blurb aside, these are some excellent little tales. The relationship between each of them is thin. The ones that seem to be the author’s recollections go together well, but the ones that might be fabricated scenes from the headspace of someone raised in Mormonism don’t immediately advertise their connection to the rest.
What I really loved were the closing pages, which were reserved for the poems. There were some real gems in this section, including a grim parody of a Mormon children’s song about pioneer children and poignant representations of shedding an oppressive religion:
I hurt in places too specific
to name, too pointed
to touch, too rounded
to remain untouched.
The Writer’s Voice: A-
There is a stylistic shift between many of these stories, but they all convey a deep sense of pain and confusion and yearning. It’s a sad book, but the sadness is presented intimately and believably. Hewson clearly has a gift for turning a phrase.
The strength of the writing shines brightest in the poetry. Not every stanza is a home run, but these are the parts I’m most likely to go back and re-read. The final poem is brilliant and the closing line—which I wouldn’t dare spoil for anyone—sent chills up my spine.
The X-Factor: C+
Much as I hate to say it, beyond the occasional poetic brilliance and the interesting narrative style adopted for one of the vignettes, there wasn’t a whole lot that really made me sit up and take notice. But there also wasn’t a whole lot to make me roll my eyes and groan.
It’s mostly well-written and decently edited. It takes you on a few similar if short emotional journeys and then packs a punch at the end. Which is pretty much what you’d hope to get from a collection of short works, I guess.
The Benediction: B-
Its packaging may set people up for some confounded expectations (and not the good kind), but Leave Me Alone: Memoirs of an ExMormon shouldn’t technically be disappointing. It’s melancholy, it’s thoughtful, the prose is adeptly shaped, and the poetry is fluid and at times beautiful. It may be an interesting read for someone who’s unfamiliar with Mormonism but not necessarily looking to learn about it in any detail. For those familiar with the religion, as the title suggests, it’s a more suitable read for those who have left than for those who remain.