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Elders: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 5, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Hogarth; First Edition edition (March 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307955699
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307955692
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #902,831 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Admits readers to a kind of inner sanctum. . . . McIlvain zeros in on the inner struggle, exploring the appeal of faith and the sorrow that comes with losing it."—New York Times

“Glows with the love and anger of a former believer. . . . Clear-eyed. . . . Finely paced, keenly observed, and ruefully honest.” Boston Globe

"[A] classic in Mormon letters. . . . Excellent, Mormon-themed novels are few and far between. This is one of them.”—The Daily Beast

“McIlvain dissects the mix of need and ambition and genuine faith that fuel a disciplined devotion. . . . Earthbound. . . . Honest. . . . Builds to [a] drastic resolution.” —Slate

Elders is a refreshingly earnest, clear-eyed, and self-assured debut by a young writer to watch. McIlvain wrestles with sturdy themes, conflicted characters, and big ideasthe stuff of classic literature.  —Jonathan Evison, author of West of Here

“I’ve always wanted to read a novel about Mormon missions abroad, and McIlvain is the ideal writer to write it.  The framework he provides is layered and fascinating, and inside it, the complex human drama plays out beautifully—these are memorable characters, and McIlvain shows them to us with compassion and honesty both.” —Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

“Ryan McIlvain’s beautifully written first novel takes the reader inside a quest: the coming-of-age mission expected of young male Mormons. Elders reveals a world of self-denial, proselytizing and passionate faith very differently experienced by a young American and his Brazilian counterpart.  For one, to succeed is to turn away; for the other, faith is survival itself.  Elders, “seeking one star in a million, a golden elect,” arrives at the perfect moment.” —Jayne Anne Phillips, author of Lark & Termite

“A nuanced meditation on faith and commitment that has all the intensity of a stage play.  Elders is a powerful and deeply moving debut from a gifted young writer.” —T.C. Boyle, author of San Miguel
“A thoughtful, carefully wrought story about the voids between belief and questioning, between loneliness and companionship, between home and far, far away.” —Ramona Ausubel, author of No One Is Here Except All of Us

“In graceful, deft prose, Elders explores how two very young men cope with the serious task they are charged to perform, and the close quarters they must share. Every sentence counts as the novel tracks their fraught intimacy, their sincere efforts, their doubts, their disappointments. This is a wise book about the strength of human relationships under the pressure of challenged faith. Ryan McIlvain offers the reader genuine hope.” —Alice Elliot Dark, author of In the Gloaming

“With strong, economical language, Ryan McIlvain has crafted a terrific story.  From exotic Brazil to an even stranger America.  These characters are presented fully and with great affection.  I'm certain this is the first of many fine works from an important new voice.” —Percival Everett, author of Percival Everett by Virgil Russell

About the Author

Ryan McIlvain grew up in the Mormon Church and resigned his membership from it in his mid-twenties. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in many journals, including The Paris Review. A Stegner Fellow at Stanford from 2009 to 2011, he currently lives with his wife in Los Angeles.

Customer Reviews

Very well written.
Judson Hyatt
The novel is a work of fiction, but the author has a clear, deep understanding of Mormonism and missionaries.
Craig M. Kelley
I managed to read the entire book, but I constantly felt that I had no idea who that intended audience was.
David H. Birley

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 59 people found the following review helpful By M. Stoneman on March 19, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
(Full disclosure: Ryan McIlvain is a friend and a former colleague at Brigham Young University; I was also a Mormon missionary in Brazil during the 2003 invasion of Iraq)

There are so many things about life on a Mormon mission: the tedium, the inner turmoil, the hardcore overtime regimen of tracting, the ladder climbing, the strange ersatz marriage with a total stranger that either blooms into lasting friendship or withers under extreme mutual disdain. Their essence is fully captured in Elders. Ryan McIlvain knows whereof he speaks. Having lived it, he just gets it and more importantly he conveys it on the page. This is no small feat and I can’t count the number of times I nodded my head at the end of a scene and recalled some outburst or unexpected act of charity or some lengthy period of stony silence in my own mission. This was both exhilirating and terrifying.

Bad things do actually happen in Mormon missions, sometimes the worst things. While very uncommon, some missionaries go AWOL, some get sent home dishonorably, some even commit crimes and go to jail. Elders observes its American protagonist’s spiritual downward spiral from his former aspirations with an unsparing clarity. The amount of physical violence depicted in the book is perhaps atypical but the emotions are not. Every 19-year old Elder or Sister missionary has moments of rage and revulsion boiling over and not many can react to it in a peaceful, disciplined way. The random acts of senseless destruction described in the book, like burning clothes and breaking dishware, are drawn accurately from real behavior and attest to the profound anxiety and frustration shared by all missionaries.

I must admit that I found the book occasionally careless about referencing Mormon concepts.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Mayflower Girl on February 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I think people's journeys of faith are always interesting--wherever they lead. I found "Elders" to be really well written and fascinating. At first,
I was trying to get my bearings. I've never been on a mission--so terms like "P" day (Preparation Day--basically their day off) or the concept of burning clothes (apparently,
some Mormon missionaries burn various articles of clothing to signify completing a certain stretch of their mission...so a tie at 6 months, a shirt at 12 months, a pair of pants at 18 months, etc.) But those things were minor, and the story and characters were so engrossing that it really didn't slow me down.

I actually found Elder Passos (the Brazilian convert) a more interesting character (well, perhaps equally as interesting character) as Elder McLeod. For those who are LDS, I actually think you will enjoy this book. It's not a bashing of the faith--but more an honest exploration. I think it would be particularly good reading for teens/young adults preparing to go on a mission. The one thing to know is that the book does deal a bit with masturbation--which as far as I can tell, is not spoken of very much in the LDS church.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Rachel on March 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book "Elders", written by Ryan McIlvain, features two LDS (Mormon) missionaries as they go about proseletyzing in the town of Carinha, Brazil. Elder McLeod is an American who is burnt out after eighteen months of proselytizing; he refuses to cater to the politics within the mission field and as a result, is characterized as difficult and unruly. Elder Passos, a Brazilian who joined the LDS church after the death of his mother, struggles to balance his faith with his identity. This story takes place against the backdrop of the 9/11 attacks and the American invasion of Iraq, a tension that is reflected in the hostile attitudes towards Elder McLeod. Elder McLeod and Elder Passos are companions; the strict missionary rules require them to spend every moment together, a fact that results in a tenuous friendship between two unlikely people. These characters are boys that are turning into men, with all of the uncertainty that marks such a transition.

Elder Passos is devout, overly-serious, ambitious about the future, and uncertain about his place in the world. He studies English in his spare time, hoping to attend BYU. Perhaps the most poignant moment came at a time when the entire country is watching Brazil play in the final match of the Latin American Football Championships on a Sunday, at the same time as church. The mission president, an American, has insisted that church cannot be canceled, rescheduled, or skipped. Looking at the mission president, Elder Passos sees "a man who could look at an entire culture and see a game, merely, who could look at a country-wide communion and see a crowd." As a Mormon, Passos possesses a simple, sincere faith: he believes, with all his heart, that the teachings of the Mormon Church are true.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Someone Else TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The plot isn't particularly compelling. It's a lot of mission-speak and knocking on doors and arguing over church doctrine. But McIlvain writes well, and the book is interesting if you look at it from a non-fiction perspective. Elder McLeod, the doubter, is probably a pretty close match for the author, who has left the Mormon church. So it's worth reading if you want to see one ex-Mormon's take on missionary life in Brazil.

If you're a practicing Mormon and you can't resist taking a peek to see what McIlvain has to say about your sacred traditions, just be aware there is some foul language and some sex talk. If you can tolerate that, it doesn't seem like there would be much you'd find objectionable, unless you're specifically looking for ways to be offended. It's not as if he set out to slam the church. It seems more like a fictionalized memoir of his own missionary experiences.
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More About the Author

Ryan McIlvain is a novelist and essayist living in Los Angeles. His debut novel, Elders (Hogarth/Random House), was longlisted for the Center for Fiction's First Novel Prize. His shorter fiction and nonfiction have appeared in venues like The Paris Review, Post Road, and The Rumpus, and have received honorable mentions in The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. A former Stegner Fellow in Fiction at Stanford, McIlvain has taught writing and literature at Rutgers, Stanford, and USC

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