The International Imitation Douglas Thayer Competition

Now that the Mormon Lit Blitz is almost over, I’m feeling the post-contest blues. Since I’m a devout Mormon, and alcohol isn’t really an option, I’m trying to dull the pain by reading Douglas Thayer’s Wasatch and thinking how fun it would be to hold an “International Imitation Douglas Thayer Competition” modeled on those competitions that encourage writers to submit their best imitations of stylistically distinctive writers like Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Jane Austen for fun and glory.
Let’s face it: as Mormon writers go, Douglas Thayer has the most distinctive style. If you don’t believe me, read his fiction. That’s what I’ve been doing lately, and I exaggerate not when I say someone ought to introduce “Thayeresque” into Mormon critical discourse. He has a voice that is all his own.
Of course, I don’t think this contest will ever get off the ground, but it is fun to think about what the rules might be. As a Thayer fan, I think any competition of this kind would be a fitting tribute to a man who has contributed so much to contemporary Mormon fiction.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery, right?
So, here are the rules I’ve come up with. Feel free to add to them in the comments section.
Also, if you don’t get any of what follows, repent and go here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Rule #1: The story must contain either Boy Scouts or soldiers.
Rule #2: The protagonist must have no qualms about wearing a Boy Scout uniform in public.
Rule #3: The antagonist must be a bitter middle-aged man or the wilderness.
Rule #4: The story must take place in Provo or have a main character who is from Provo.
Rule #5: The story cannot have a female protagonist.
Rule #6: Female characters must be mothers, girlfriends, and/or wise old women.
Rule #7: Post-1960s slang is not permitted, even when the story takes place post-1960s.
Rule #8: Teenagers must drink malts—even if the story takes place in the 1990s.
Rule #9: Protagonist must experience the death of at least one loved one.
Rule #10: The more loved-one deaths the protagonist experiences, the better.
Rule #11: The best character to kill off early in the story/novel is the father.
Rule #12: The best character to kill off late in the story/novel is the best friend.
Rule #13: The adolescent male protagonist must be obsessed with how his body feels.
Rule #14: Jock straps must be referred to as “athletic supporters.” They must be a source of embarrassment and pride.
Rule #15: If swimming occurs, characters must either skinny dip or think about the ethics of skinny dipping.
Rule #16: At some point, the young male protagonist must feel “important.”
Rule #17: If the male protagonist has a love interest, she must die as soon as possible.
Rule #18: If the male protagonist has a father, he must die or be overweight and close to death.
Rule #19: The protagonist’s last name must be Williams or Thatcher.
Rule #20: The word “very” must be used every third sentence.
Rule #21: Active Mormons must be referred to as “religious” and not “spiritual” or “active.”
Rule #22: Sadistic middle-aged male characters must be Eagle Scouts.  
Rule #23: Middle-aged male characters must go by their last names, especially if they are the antagonists.
Rule #24: Disillusionment and Grace must be primary themes.
Rule #25: The story/novel must contain—without exception—fishing, hunting, swimming, camping, warring, and/or firefighting.
Help me out. Am I missing a rule?

6 thoughts on “The International Imitation Douglas Thayer Competition”

  1. Confession: I have a copy of Hooligan, but never made it very far because it read a bit like a dictated map of Provo ca. 1930–more attention, I guess, to broad geographic and social features than to specific narrative threads.

    I attempted to read, then skimmed, the short story “Indian Hills” in Under the Cottonwoods. The ending was cool, but the degree to which I was trapped in the POV character's endless meditations made it difficult to stay checked into the story until then.

    In theory, I understand that Thayer is cool as someone who tried to use the imaginative space of fiction to grapple with some of the major shifts in society since WWII. But I've felt too turned off by Thayeresque pacing, sentences, or something to actually finish reading any Doug Thayer.

    Is there a specific story that might change that? Is there one that pays off in a way that clearly justifies even the sloggiest of reads? Or is the idea of Thayer's writing–that someone was using Mormon realism to wrestle with violence and capitalism and guilt and redemption and the mixed legacy of the Boy Scouts–enough on its own, without having to actually read every word of any Doug Thayer piece?

  2. Thayer's work takes a bit to get used to–for exactly the reasons you give in your comment, James. Before reading Thayer, readers have to get the fact that all of his stories and novels are slight variations on the same themes and motifs, so on the surface there isn't the kind of variety you would expect reading the collected works of most writers. I think this must be deliberate: there has to be a reason Thayer keeps, say, burning houses down or having young men antagonized by sadistic older men. Cynics might say Thayer lacks creativity and imagination; I would argue, however, that he is trying to figure something out in the slight deviations that occur between his many retellings.

    Hooligan is not his best work. I see it as a pre-writing exercise for a novel like The Tree House, which starts off slowly, but picks up pace when the main character goes to Germany and later Korea. I also think it's interesting to read The Conversion of Jeff Williams, Thayer's most stylistically accessible novel, as a sequel to The Tree House.

    If I were to recommend a Thayer story that would change your mind about his work, I would recommend either “Wolves,” which is anthologized in Dispensation, or “The Locker Room,” which appeared in Irreantum a few issues ago and was recently collected in Wasatch, Thayer's latest book. “The Locker Room,” in many ways, is everything Thayeresque boiled down into one work of fiction. I'd read that one before “Wolves.”

    Also, I would argue that David Clark's Death of a Disco Dancer is often Thayeresque thematically and occasionally stylistically the way Thayer's work is often Hemingwayesque thematically and occassionally stylistically.

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