Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Book Review: The Road Show

I've never been in a road show, though having grown up in the LDS church, I know that road shows live infamously in Mormon mythology. A road show is what? A talent show of short, often musical, skits, performed in competition? Something like that. Each ward in a stake participates, each with a director who writes the script, auditions and casts the participants, and sees the project through in a short, action-packed time allotment of a few weeks to a few months. Obviously, everyone involved is an amateur, unless luck strikes with ward members' talents. People of all ages and abilities come together and put on a show, so how about that? Braden Bell took this simple backdrop and used it to stage a life-changing event for five different characters, all struggling in very personal and very private ways. All healed by "Our Savior's Love", the theme of the road show.

This is Braden's first novel, and right away my curiosity was sparked by the endorsements the book received. Names that I recognized gave high praise to The Road Show, saying things like Braden had "hit the nail on the head."

The book opens with a heavy hitter. The main character, Scott, soon-to-be-called road show director, is battling an intense addiction to internet pornography. He is a graduate student in theater, marked for his excellence and promise, who has fallen from grace and is now involved in deliberations to determine his future in the program. No one can understand the dramatic decline in the work he produces. But he can. And though he is praying for help, for deliverance from the tentacles of this horrid addiction, he fears God is no longer listening, regarding him as filthy and unworthy.

Each character is introduced, intricate and real. A young mother battling postpartum depression; an older widow struggling with loneliness and rejection; a somewhat eclectic artist-type, feeling isolated and out-of-place in the Church; a spiritually numb, high-and-mighty Pharisee of an Elders Quorum President. Braden deftly crafts each of these characters and their lives so that they seem viable, recognizable even, and he does so seamlessly, as he connects them all together eventually bringing them to the stage.

"Our Savior's Love" is the theme of the play, and Scott, along with each of the cast members experiences beautiful healing, each in a personal way, through involvement in recreating the miracles of healing performed during the Savior's mortal ministry. The meaning of the Atonement becomes real, individual, life-changing. But the storytelling is never preachy.

One of my favorite things about the way that Braden wrote this story was his use of internal dialogue. Besides the narration and actual dialogue, there are three other streams of dialogue revealed to the reader: the characters' thoughts, the whisperings of the Spirit, and the darker, discouraging whispers of the Adversary. I loved this technique because it shows such a clear window into the minds of not only the characters, but myself too. I found myself recognizing patterns that I've slipped into before, and being removed while reading the book, I could see with such clarity the power that both the Spirit and the Adversary can have on our actions, and how sweet the One, and manipulative and self-serving the other. I found myself cheering the characters on to listen to the "good" voice and make the right choice.

Braden Bell has accumulated much insight into the human spirit and its mortal journey through his service as a bishop in the LDS church. His frank, yet still tactful and delicate, portrayal of the nature of pornography addiction was quite eye-opening and powerfully, even painfully, expressed. His tender account of a mother dealing with debilitating depression and her husband's attempts to help her, and the heart of a sweet, lonely widow reveal that Braden Bell's heart has been broken open by witnessing the suffering of others. His writing also reveals that Braden Bell knows how all-encompassing the Savior's atonement is, how sweetly miracles occur, and how available they both are to us all.

The Road Show is a thoughtful, profound read. A quick read too, at under 120 pages. And a read I highly recommend.

For more information on Braden Bell and his novel The Road Show, please visit his website. The Road Show is available for purchase on


Braden Bell said...

Thank you, Jenna! Wow. That made me want to read the book! : ) Thanks for taking the time to do this.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

I've been increasingly intrigued by reviews of this book but yours has clinched it for me. It's firmly on my To Read list now.

Natalie said...

Beautiful and perfectly stated review! I love this: " His writing also reveals that Braden Bell knows how all-encompassing the Savior's atonement is, how sweetly miracles occur, and how available they both are to us all."