Book Review: The Backslider

Peterson, Levi S. 1990. The Backslider. Salt Lake City: Signature Books.


I read this novel after hearing an interview with author Levi Peterson on Mormon Stories. I don’t generally read fiction, so this was quite a departure from the types of books I usually read. Peterson tells a story of how 22 year old Frank deals with religious guilt and sexual frustration. I was surprised by how much of the book dealt directly with sexual frustration. As the author states, one of the major themes of the book was that “God is no enemy of human appetite.” I didn’t find this theme very interesting, however.

One aspect of the novel was quite interesting, however. Peterson creates an image of Jesus as a “Cowboy Jesus” who rides a horse, wears boots, smokes cigarettes, and swears. And he does so to irreverently poke fun at the traditional images of jesus we find elsewhere. Despite the differences between the “normal Jesus” and Cowboy Jesus, there are more similarities. Cowboy Jesus teaches a message of strength, forgiveness, peace, and patience. And what is most interesting to me, is realizing that Cowboy Jesus is far more influential in Frank’s life than “normal” Jesus has ever been.

So I think of the many was each of us tailor the gospel to fit our lives – the way each of us picks and chooses which doctrines we realy like, and which ones we will choose to emphasize in our own lives. Each of us chooses to view Christ differently, based on our own experiences. I think about my impression of Jesus, and I realize that my image of Jesus is a combination of images and descriptions from hundreds of sources, most of which are hardly authoritative. But they combine to create a God I can believe in. And maybe my personal version of how Jesus looks and acts isn’t accurate at all… but does it matter? If Frank can gain strength and a sense of forgiveness from Cowboy Jesus, does it really matter if Jesus really was a cowboy? I don’t think so.

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