The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance may be a mouthful to say (my shorthand for it is The Mormon Halloween Book), but it’s a pleasure to read. Written by Elna Baker, the book is a memoir with three major themes: falling in love, becoming comfortable with your body, and figuring out your relationship with God while trying to stay true your religion. If your eyes are glazing over after reading that last sentence, please don’t go yet. This atheist, whose eyes also tend to glaze over at the mention of religion-y literature, could not put this book down. I read most of it in a day.
TNYRMSHD begins at an actual New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, which Baker attends every year in hopes of finally meeting The One. She’s overweight and ignored by everyone except the guy who talks to her to get more information about her gorgeous sister.
Tired of being overlooked by both prospective suitors and potential employers, Baker dedicates herself to losing a lot of weight–80 pounds–in less than a year. Suddenly everything is different for her: people are paying attention to her, and men are attracted to her. A whole new dating world opens up to her, but since she grew up strictly following her religion, she knows nothing of even kissing, much less sex. (A lot of the kissing scenes in the book are mortifying.) To make matters worse she ends up falling in love with an atheist, which puts everything she’s ever believed in to the test.
Baker’s naiveté–and her willingness to laugh at herself–is instantly endearing. She is extremely honest about her struggles to remain faithful to Mormonism, especially since her definition of what it means to be a good Mormon changes as she gains more life experience. It doesn’t hurt that she’s a gifted writer and a comedienne; even her painful experiences are infused with humor:
On our family trip to Morocco when I was twelve years old, a man saw my sister on the street and stopped my parents to say: “Your daughter is the most beautiful creature on this earth. I will give you a thousand camels for her.” My parents said: “No, thank you” … So the man turned to me, looked me up and down, and said: “I’ll give you a hundred camels for her.”
Nine hundred camels, I thought. There is a nine-hundred-camel difference between my sister and me?
The rest of my life can be described as a pursuit to be worth more camels.
I do want to warn people with eating disorders that some of the material in the book is possibly triggering. Baker talks a lot about weight loss throughout the book, and the methods are not healthy. As with most of the stories in the book, the real reasons behind Baker’s weight loss are funny (in a horrifying way), but I did cringe at a lot of her discussions about her dieting methods and her obsessions with her appearance.
Still, this is one of the most enjoyable memoirs I’ve ever read. The discussions about religion are fascinating, especially since Baker is aware of how farfetched the details of Mormonism can sound to a non-Mormon. It’s also one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time–the “Babies Buying Babies” chapter alone makes the book worth reading.
The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance was published in October 2009 by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Group.