Todd Robert Petersen
Sanpete County is a pretty quiet place; nothing ever really happens there. It is home to small towns, a junior college, millions of turkeys, and a collection of Scandinavian Mormons. The fictional Sanpete is no different, unless you happen to run across Jens Thorsen. When he’s around, doors get torn off their hinges, wives glare at you with paring knives in hand, and horses named Enoch are just about the best friend a person could have. Thorsen is larger than life, mostly because he knows only one way to do things. When he decides to move, when it’s time to do his “church work,” you had better get out of the way, especially if you are Bishop Darrell Bunker. Thorsen and the Bishop just don’t see eye to eye. Thorsen can’t stand being told what to do and how to do it. Bishop Bunker can’t seem to stop doing just that. There is a rift between them. Todd Robert Petersen’s novel explores the rift with tenderness, jollity, respect, and a wonderfully keen eye for all the nuances of character that make the best fiction.
From the moment the novel begins, you know you’re where a good reader should be. Each sentence is artfully crafted—almost perfect. The language cajoles and entreats you to keep reading. In fact, it’s so beautiful you can’t stop. Each event, each conflict, each revelation of character speaks to the soul. And then the themes begin to coalesce. Grudges tear small communities and wards to pieces. Anger always seethes just beneath the surface of civility. Resolution seems impossible. This rift should make Sanpete about the last place you want to stay. But Petersen, with a great sense of humor, won’t let it happen. Instead, we come to respect the characters. As they find ways to heal wounds and repair damaged relationships, we find ourselves opening up to uncover the largeness of soul that seeks community rather than isolation. We discover that what we have in common, what "can't be added to the batter but was brought with [us] from heaven," can and ought to bind us together. Good novels make good people. The Association for Mormon Letters is pleased to present the 2009 award in the novel to Todd Robert Petersen for Rift, published by Chris Bigelow’s wonderful Zarahemla Books.