DESPERATELY SEEKING SPIRIT: Review of Martha Beck’s “Leaving the Saints”

Beck
Martha Beck’s Leaving the Saints is valuable . . .  .Why? Because in my view the book is so very Mormon. There are rich and telling descriptions of the Church and of Mormon culture, particularly as it configures in Utah Valley,more precisely at church-owned Brigham Young University. Many of us are apt to resonate with Beck’s account of the young Latter-day Saint leaving Zion, then returning home with not only religious questions but an invigorating sense of the expanding context in which Mormonism and the LDS Church nest. Her account of the disturbinconfluence of family, faith, and culture triggered by exposure to the world opens up the question of why many Latter-day Saints—surely one of the great globetrotting groups of the world—can remain so cloistered, so inoculated from the world outside themselves. Read the entire review here, beginning on pg. 82.
The response to this book was outrageous. Even the godfather of self-help books, the late Stephen R. Covey (of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People fame), went insane when he heard about the publication of the book which includes sexual abuse claims by Beck about her Mormon celebrity father, Hugh Nibley. (Covey, a friend of Oprah Winfrey’s, actually tried to derail the publication of the book and to discredit it wholesale since Beck was, by then, a columnist at Winfrey’s O Magazine.) The lunacy of it all was palpable.
This review was originally my comments on the book’s publication as a panelist at the Sunstone Symposium, the year the book was published by Random House’s Crown imprint. I worked those comments into a book review which later appeared in Irreantum, a Mormon literary journal (now defunct), published by the Association for Mormon Letters where I was the sections editor for 5 years. I took some heat for this review, but in the passive-aggressive way that I often experience as “the Mormon way.” Even so, I stand by my review which doesn’t let Beck off the hook for her savagery. This is one of the best nonfiction descriptions of life in the Mormon hothouse that has yet to see the light of day on a national level.
Hugh Nibley, 1983 Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU

Hugh Nibley, 1983
Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU

Author Martha Beck

Author Martha Beck