Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Review: The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker

UK book cover of The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance (and that's the one and only time I'm typing that title out) is actually about, although it seems like it should be obvious. While it is about a lonely Mormon girl trying to find a partner, it's also about weight loss, religion, self image, sisters, careers and a whole lot more besides. Elna Baker is a great, funny author and I will definitely be reading anything else she decides to write. 

Plot summary: It's lonely being a Mormon in New York City. Every year, Elna Baker attends the New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance - a virgin in a room full of thirty-year-old virgins doing the Funky Chicken. And once again, Elna is alone at the punch bowl, stocking up on Oreos, exactly where you'd expect to find a single Mormon who's also a Big Girl. But loneliness is nothing compared to what Elna feels when she loses eighty pounds, finds herself suddenly beautiful... and in love with an atheist.

I didn't know a whole lot about Mormonism before I read this book, but then I didn't realise that I didn't know until I read it, if that makes any sense. Elna Baker manages to present her religion in an explanatory way, that manages to be neither condescending nor judgemental and I now feel much more informed than I did before. Mormonism states that you must marry another Mormon before you can get to the highest level of Heaven - with that kind of pressure, it's no wonder Ms Baker couldn't settle for an athiest.

Still, don't think for a second that this book is just a lengthy religious lecture as the best thing about The NYRMSHD is Elna's voice. She actually sounds like a real person, which can be rare in memoir-esque books like this one. I'm not convinced the veracity of some of the events themselves, but that's fine - it's not like it's a signed witness statement, and a little exaggeration is par for the course.

I actually laughed out loud at certain chapters and just didn't want them to end. My favourite is the outline of her time working in the doll department at FAO Schwarz.

The display baby was on display for a reason. It could not be sold. Something terrible happened in the factory on the day of its birth because the doll's fingers were not like the other babies [sic]. They had been molded together - making it look like it had flippers instead of hands. As if that weren't bad enough, it had curly red Chuckie hair and scary green eyes, and it's head weighed at least five pounds more than all the other babies' heads. As a result, when you lifted the baby, its head would automatically flop back, and its little flippers would flip up - making him look like a tabloid monster baby.

Which is how the doll earned its nickname: Nubbins. And because Nubbins was for display purposes only, he didn't have an incubator like the other babies. Instead, he was kept in a cupboard. This was especially disturbing because Nubbins had a knack for looking dead. So when you opened the cupboard you'd find him slumped over onto his enormous head with his arms flopped behind him, like he died in Downward-Facing Dog. 
However, as is often the case in this genre of book, it did lose its way towards the end. It seems to be A Thing though - frequently the funniest memoirs will be repetetive and bland by the end, and The NYRMSHD is no exception. The last few chapters are the weakest when they should be the strongest, as they're the parts people remember when they're thinking back on the book as a whole (or writing a review!). Instead they were very self-pitying and, frankly, kind of boring.

On the whole, I really did enjoy this book. There were some incredibly funny parts and Elna Baker has a wonderful 'voice' that makes me positive I'd love her in real life. Unfortunately, the chapters at the very end felt like they'd been tacked on to make up numbers as they didn't really 'gel' with the rest and came across as rather self-pitying.

Visit Elna Baker's website or find her on Twitter.


  1. Another book to add to my library list! I've heard the title thrown around a few times and been intrigued (who wouldn't be?!) but never really stopped to find out what it was until now... Funny and quirky and Kinda Awesome Til The End works for me!

  2. Very nice book. I am very interested about online books and I am searching about the gymnastics books.

  3. I loved this book - felt much the same as you about the introduction to Mormonism and how Baker manages to present it in a very non-judgy way.

  4. Hey there - stopping by from the What's in a Name Reading Challenge. Surely this has got to be one of the best titles ever. Thanks for the review - I'll add this one to my list :)


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