I reviewed this book positively for Booklist and want to continue my thoughts here.
No matter whether we should or not, we judge
books by covers. When I first saw The Days Are Gods by Liz Stephens, with its somber picture of horses walking in the snow, I thought it would be good. I had never heard of the author, but the muted gray and white of the illustration and title in script spoke to me of serious introspection. It also helped that I saw "AMERICAN LIVES SERIES | Tobias Wolff, editor" at the bottom of the cover. I have read other titles in this series from the University of Nebraska Press with great pleasure. I was in no way disappointed.
Stephen spent ten years "below the line" in the production of television commercials. Her job was catering snacks and refreshments to actors and production crews. Longing to write and eager to do something more honest than advertising, she entered graduate school in northern Utah. She and her long time soulmate Christopher married and moved into an old house outside of Wellsville, Utah. Through their windows, they saw the changing colors of the mountains and the scattered houses of their neighbors, whose children might drop by at any time asking to use their bathroom or to take their horses into Stephen's pasture for a ride. The neighbors, mostly Mormons, were gracious and tolerant, not bent on converting her as she had feared. Wanting not to feel an outsider, she tried to fit in, dressing plainly, hiding her tattoo, and participating in the life of the community. Still, any local could pick her out as not one of them.
Her surprising feeling of belonging in her new setting led Stephens to document her present, examine her past, and contemplate her future. Was there a seed in her upbringing that made her long for the countryside? She recalled stories of her parents move from rural Oklahoma to suburban Chicago. She traveled to Oklahoma to see family landmarks, returning to Utah uncertain about committing to the state. Would her nearly pristine valley be spoiled by the increasing migration of disenchanted urbanites? Should she leave the place she loves?
In her first book, Stephens has intimately described a situation faced by others seeking a place to find a wholesome lifestyle. She also reveals much about her own soul. Memoir readers will really enjoy The Days Are Gods.
Stephens, Liz. The Days Are Gods. University of Nebraska Press, 2013. ISBN 9780803243545.