An Unarmed Woman
“Secret marriages, hidden rooms, fractured families, cold-blooded murder. Seventeen-year-old Rachel O’Brien and her polygamous stepfather, J.D., are hot on the trail of the shotgun demise of two federal deputies one wintry Oquirrh-mountain night. This snowy ride with Rachel and J.D. will test your mettle, as it does Rachel’s devotion to a faith that mostly pleases her but riles her sensibilities too. Rachel’s riveting journey provides crucial insights about the tangled and strained loyalties that came with living ‘the Principle.’” –Heidi Naylor, author, Revolver
“Bennion has written a mystery worthy of the Old West landscapes. A compelling story set in pioneer-era Utah, with one of the most original and captivating protagonists to appear in Mormon literature—Rachel O’Brien, a fearless and savvy tracker of truth. She adroitly exercises logic and insight into human nature, in a way that rivals Sherlock Holmes, as she attempts to sleuth out the mystery of who in the their small community killed federal deputies sent by the US government to ferret out Mormon polygamists.” –Steven L. Peck, author, Gilda Trillim: Shepherdess of Rats, and Science: The Key to Theology
“In this absorbing narrative, John Bennion shows his mastery of yet another genre, the murder mystery. Set in a Mormon town on the edge of Utah’s west desert, this tale reveals the tensions of polygamy among the Latter-day Saints of the pioneer era—virtually engaging as it does the entire population of the town, which has good reason to fear the wide-ranging effects of the crime. Among the more remarkable features of the novel is its narrator, Rachel O’Brien, whose acute observations and unladylike forwardness in making her opinions known show her to be a sort of proto-feminist.” –Levi S. Peterson, author, The Backslider, and Juanita Broooks: Mormon Woman Historian
Ezekiel's Third Wife
Release: May 2019
John Bennion’s novel Ezekiel’s Third Wife immerses us in the Utah Territory of the late 1880s—a time of hardscrabble farming, plural marriage, and outsider suspicion. A dead body in a ditch after midnight raises questions of murder. But deeper still, this is a novel about individual and communal values: What debt do we owe others, and what joy can we claim for ourselves.
--Jack Harrell, author of Caldera Ridge
Aridity, Wallace Stegner wrote long ago, is the “ultimate unity” and “the one inflexible condition” of the American West, and survival there demands cooperation and community, which aridity will test to the breaking point. Nowhere has this been more true than in the West Desert of Utah where John Bennion was born and bred. Bennion’s ruralist literary roots may reach toward Hardy and Lawrence, but grow deepest into that desert dust he has never wished to shake off. Descended from 19th century British converts to Mormonism who sought to make the West Desert fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy and “blossom as the rose,” Bennion has soaked his imagination in the felt life of his patriarchal and polygamous forebears, and in this novel he summons out of the dust the voice of Rachel O’Brien Rockwood Wainwright Harker, a young polygamous wife, secret rebel, and apprentice sleuth, who discovers that “Only lust for water was strong enough to make a good person kill.” Listen for the story she has to tell.
--Bruce W. Jorgensen, writer, poet, and literary critic
Falling Toward Heaven
Alone at the airport, Howard Rockwood considers two years spent away from home. He has said good-bye to his mission president, but now his head aches. Can he fall back into the routine and expectations of his parents in Utah? Can he muster the drive to follow his instincts to figure out what he has been unable to wrap his mind around? He thinks of Allison, the young woman he met, who visits his dreams. She is educated, quick-witted the kind of "man-eating pagan" that his senile grandfather warned him about but who nonetheless makes him feel alive. If in order to find yourself you first need to become lost, then Howard is taking a first step toward self-discovery.
The prose in Bennon's first collection reflects his stories' Utah desert setting--somewhat arid and a little oppressive. The title piece, about a farmer whose brood sow turns on her piglets, is the least successful of the seven tales here; those about chemist Howard Rockwood, his family and his friends are grounded in Mormon tradition and more cohesive. ``Dust'' details Rockwood's crisis of conscience, wrought when his work on a government project results in a deadly gas. In his guilt he leaves his wife and children and goes to live in a cabin in the desert. A husband's abandoning his family, a frequent theme, is also explored in ``A Court of Love'' (which actually refers to an excommunication court), featuring Rockwood as a young man returned from a two-year mission in France to discover that his girlfriend has married someone else, his best friend is still immature and his parents are breaking up. ``Jenny, Captured by the Mormons'' takes an abandoned wife's point of view and is the best of the bunch. It follows Jenny's daily struggles to survive in Salt Lake City after her husband has embraced fundamentalism and left her and their children penniless. Without drawing moral conclusions, Bennion reveals the pain of the outsider in an extremely closed society.
A native of the Utah desert, I write personal and historical essays and fiction about people struggling with that forbidding landscape.