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Mission to America: A Novel Hardcover – October 11, 2005


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What If? by Randall Munroe
From the creator of the wildly popular webcomic xkcd, find hilarious and informative answers to important questions you probably never thought to ask. Learn more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 271 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (October 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038550764X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385507646
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #760,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Various co-existing Americas get a bitter, resonant jibing from Kirn (Thumbsucker) in his latest fiction of decadent culture on the skids. Founded in the 19th century, the Aboriginal Fulfilled Apostles are a doctrinal smorgasbord of health food enthusiasm, Swedenborgism, matriarchy and semicommunal living. Isolated in Bluff, Mont., the group is dying out, so its only prosperous member, Ennis Lauer, finances some missionary work to Terrestria—aka the on-the-grid U.S. Narrator Mason Plato LaVerle is plucked from his ongoing courtship of young Sarah to trawl for converts with the (as it turns out) tragically temptable Elder Stark. As he and Elder drive through Wyoming, Elder is introduced to crank by a decrepit dealer, and Mason is introduced to sex by a 15-year-old Wiccan. In the Aspen-like Snowshoe, Colo., the two fall into the circle around Errol Effingham Sr., a billionaire constructed mainly of bogus takes on Ayn Rand and a bad stomach, while Mason falls for the lovely Becky, whose former incarnation can still be viewed with a triple-X mouse click. Mason's flat voice, which levels everything to a certain calm, makes overconsumption and dissipation seem funny again. This may be the Livingston, Mont.–based Kirn's best work yet.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Kirn's satirical novel follows two young men who are dispatched from a cloistered religious community in rural Montana to recruit converts from present-day America. As they gorge on junk food and vapid women, administer a well-being quiz (sample question: "Are you ever aware of your own heartbeat?"), and become in-house counsel for a Colorado mogul, one can clearly discern the author attempting to skewer the consumerism and the spiritual emptiness of contemporary society. But the critique is vitiated by the fact that the community this society is being measured against is so patently silly (young men lose their virginity at a yearly event called "The Frolic"; women read messages from the dead by looking at tree bark), and that the main characters exist only to illustrate the various themes.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

More About the Author

WALTER KIRN is a contributing editor to Time magazine, where he was nominated for a National Magazine Award in his first year, and a regular reviewer for the New York Times Book Review. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, GQ, Vogue, New York and Esquire. He is the author of four previous works of fiction: My Hard Bargain: Stories, She Needed Me, Thumbsucker, and Up in the Air. He lives in Livingston, Montana.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By FilmFan on October 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The book bravely (but in a quiet fashion) addresses the Big Themes of this country. It looks at how where we came from (i.e., an idealistic Democratic "Great Experiment" tainted by slavery, Native American genocide & an obsession with materialism and Manifest Destiny land-grabbing) affects where we are today (kind of haplessly seeking some Grand Answer in response to pervasive social/cultural vacuity), leading us to often making some wacky (i.e., bad) moral/social choices. Two isolated insulated social groups confront each other (a fictitious Mormon/Amish-type religious cult vs. the super-rich)with occasionally funny, occasionally sad, & ultimately tragic consequences. Some positively beautiful, acutely observed writing with a quietly powerful ending. Well worth reading!
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If you were going to read just ONE of Walter Kirn's books, this would be the one I'd recommend. It is my absolute favorite, as it seems to be written from the heart and clearly shows that Kirn is familiar with both the advantages and disadvantages of religious commitment - including protection from the worst aspects of American materialism to alienation from the larger culture. Using a small religious sect as his focus, Kirn manages to reflect our world in high contrast.

Not only that, but the book is a wild and vibrant ride, as memeber of the Aboriginal Fulfilled Aposles set out to find converts for their group, a group which is in danger of extinction. Along the way, they bump up against wealthy Americans, drug dealers, Wiccans and others....and somehow it all works, making the reader see our culture with new eyes.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Puneet S. Lamba on October 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Walter Kirn was on National Public Radio yesterday (October 19, 2005), discussing his new novel "Mission to America" with Terry Gross, the legendary host of the long-running interview program "Fresh Air."

Kirn's semi-autobiographical novel, his fourth, centers on the tale of two apostles on a mission to find new converts for their flagging religion, Aboriginal Fulfilled Apostles (AFA).

As Kirn revealed during the candid interview, door-to-door missionaries converted his then-troubled-and-isolated family to the Mormon faith when he was twelve. Having, therefore, grown up a Mormon, he originally started writing the story in the context of Mormonism. However, somewhere along the way he tired of Mormonism's idiosyncrasies and invented AFA as a religion he could actually believe in. The Baha'i-like AFA recognizes the divinity of several others along with that of Jesus Christ.

To this day, however, the author remains ambivalent about his theological status as a Mormon. On the one hand he critiques Mormon theology: the human body is at once a glorious gift from God and the greatest source of temptation; believers must get down on their knees to access the sweeping forgiveness that Jesus Christ supposedly already earned with his sacrifice; and the Garden of Eden is apparently located in Missouri! On the other hand, almost inexplicably, Kirn willingly retains his nominal Mormon citizenship. His name is still on the church books, but he no longer attends church and admits to his six-year-old daughter that no one knows what happens after we die.

Kirn has deep insights into the functioning of organized religion. He says that critiques of religion are useful only if they begin by recognizing that religions serve critical human needs, such as that of community.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on March 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The shrinking population of the Aboriginal Fulfilled Apostles (AFA) has led to a crisis--new bloodlines must be introduced into the community if they wish to continue--as it has for more than 147 years.

This isolationist sect has lived, tucked into the hills of rural Montana and led by matriarchs who follow the edicts of their Seeress to maintain a life of modesty and nutritional vigilance. Ennis Lauer, the only wealthy member of the faith, has handpicked a group of young men for an unheard-of mission--seeking out "brides" in mainstream America.

Mission to America tells the story of one of these pairs: Mason LaVerle and Elder Stark, as they leave Bluff, Montana and travel to Colorado, bringing their message of clean living to world-weary Americans.

Walter Kirn's fifth novel focuses on Mason, a naif bewildered by the choices and depravity as they begin their journey. They try Ennis Lauer's sale-closing techniques often used by con men and used car salesmen.

Where Mason is naive and calm, Elder Stark has sharp edges and chaotic energy. Asserting his leadership early on,Stark quickly develops an appetite for reality television and America's junk food. These appetites are what make him the natural choice as Lauer's ambassador in his bid to usurp leadership of the AFA.

When lampooning America's hunger for spiritual gurus, author Kirn is at his best. Using Mason to mirror America's lack of moral compass works to illuminate the fear and dearth of spirituality at the core of most of the selfish choices made each day. In a post 9-11 world, this novel can be an indictment of the spiritual journey many Americans claim to have embarked on, although in reality, they are caught up in the soulless world of reality TV and idle consumerism.
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