A glorious debut that T.C. Boyle calls “powerful and deeply moving,” Elders is the story of two young Mormon missionaries in Brazil and their tense, peculiar friendship.
Elder McLeod—outspoken, surly, a brash American—is nearing the end of his mission. For nearly two years he has spent his days studying the Bible and the Book of Mormon, knocking on doors, teaching missionary lessons—“experimenting on the word.” His new partner is Elder Passos, a devout, ambitious Brazilian who found salvation and solace in the church after his mother’s early death. The two men are at first suspicious of each other, and their work together is frustrating, fruitless. That changes when a beautiful woman and her husband offer the missionaries a chance to be heard, to put all of their practice to good use, to test the mettle of their faith. But before they can bring the couple to baptism, they must confront their own long-held beliefs and doubts, and the simmering tensions at the heart of their friendship.
A novel of unsparing honesty and beauty, Elders announces Ryan McIlvain as a writer of enormous talent.
Praise for Elders
“Admits readers to a kind of inner sanctum. . . . The story doesn’t devolve into the cheap entertainment of Mormons behaving badly. Instead Mr. McIlvain zeros in on the inner struggle, exploring the appeal of faith and the sorrow that comes with losing it.” —The 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
“A subtly told debut. . . . A character-driven novel done right.” —Publishers Weekly
“McIlvain does a fine job of setting up the multifaceted conflict that guides his swiftly paced novel. . . . The writing is assured and often quite funny.” —Kirkus Reviews
“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 ideas—the stuff of classic literature.” —Jonathan Evison, author of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving
“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
“Elders 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
“A beautifully written first novel. 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 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
“A graceful novel that tracks two young men's 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