On Second Thought by Robison E. Wells
Reviewed by Jennie Hansen
I always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific.
So begins the first chapter of On Second Thought by Robison E.Wells. Poor Walt Stewart has always had trouble figuring out who is, let alone what he wants to be when he grows up. His mom wants him to be a doctor, he thinks politics, his siblings groan over being expected to attend so many of his graduations, and his dad just maintains a silence that manages to imply it doesn’t matter what career Walt chooses because he’ll fail anyway. His fianc breaks their engagement and he’s left watching her drive away with his roommate while he’s stuck on the phone trying to respond to a job offer. His lack of attention to the particulars of the job lands him in Alimitos, New Mexico.
God put me on earth to do a certain number of things. Right now I’m so far behind I’ll never die.
Life gets hectic for Walt in Alimitos due to his job as personnel manager at the AmeriGrow Enterprises greenhouses, the flat dry desert, no street signs, the Smiths who run the local restaurant and have a marriagable daughter, a house with no furniture, the City Council, and a king size mystery that somehow involves the Platner Observatory. Purchasing a king-size television only adds to his problems. As does being called as Young Men’s president the first Sunday he’s in Alimitos.
It is impossible to love and be wise.
The observatory is “the enemy” as far as the locals are concerned. Some businesses even refuse the observatory employees service. It doesn’t help that the hated observatory is where the girl of his dreams is employed. Clara Campbell is a scientist, a member of the church, and beautiful. She also seems to like Walt and agrees to date him. It should be easy from that point on, but nothing is easy for Walt and certainly not romance.
One man can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity there ain’t nothin’ can beat teamwork.
A Sasquatch-style character roaming around the observatory and the legend of a fabulous lost cache of gold are major concerns around Alimitos, but there’s no reason for Walt and Clara to get mixed up in these legends-or is there?
Humor is never exactly as it seems. We have this notion that when we’re laughing we’re having a good time, we’re happy, and all is going well. In fact, humorous literature tends to both be written and sought out more often during times of stress and uncertainty than during times of peace and prosperity. If fiction is escapism, then humorous fiction is the greatest escape of all. There’s nothing like a good laugh to get us through tough times whether those rough times are brought about because of what might be our personal inadequacies or because of uncertainty in the world around us.
We need to be reminded from time to time of our own shortcomings and the humor writer does this by allowing us to laugh at actions in others we might not have noticed in ourselves. People, even members of the Church, are not always noble, brave, or smart. Sometimes, like Walt, we stumble into situations, or are dragged screaming and kicking, into challenges that seem beyond our abilities. But here is where the humor character shines, he draws on his faith and less-than-perfect resources to do the best he can. And as he stumbles through situations bigger than himself, we are allowed to glimpse the fine line between humor and tragedy.
A college literature teacher once told me that “the Mormon church lacks maturity. It won’t be mature until you can laugh at yourselves.” I took offense at the remark, but over the years I’ve seen the truth in it. And I’m delighted to see the rise of LDS fiction writers like Brother Wells, Robert Smith, Kerry Blair, Dean Hughes, and Joni Hilton who make me shake my head, groan a little, but most of all laugh.
In addition to being funny, On Second Thought has a well-developed plot and Wells uses his knowledge of the New Mexico scenery to provide a convincing backdrop that enhances his story. His knowledge of the gospel comes through loud and clear in what his characters do, rather than through the fractured sermons some of his characters preach. The short quotes at the beginning of each chapter set off the laughter and are particularly appropriate, but they’re not the best part of the book. The escape into a world of chuckles, introspection, and the snowball effect of laughter is the best part.
Published by Covenant Communications, 221 pages, $14.95
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