So...remember when I mentioned that we'd be holding a writing contest for short stories dealing with Mormon experience over four centuries? Well, we picked the finalists and (as of today) have posted 3/4ths of them, with our final century of stories coming by the end of this week. As the stories go up, we've also been wandering from blog to blog to discuss each piece. For today's story, Mark Penny's "The Defection of Baby Mixo," I'll be hosting the discussion. Please take a moment to go read this (very short) story and then come back and join our conversation.
When my persuasive writing students ask about humor, I tell them to be very careful. Humor can work well to set people at ease, I say, or to shake them up just enough to see a familiar issue in a new way. But it can also be divisive and hurtful and generally unhelpful. So as beginners, I don't advise them to play with it if they want to open conversations up--except maybe for some mild self-deprecating humor to show they're not a threat.
But Mark Penny is no beginner, and his story doesn't limit itself to gentle self-deprecation. This is the kind of satire that seems swing at everything in range.
As an editor, I was sold on this story from the third sentence, when Penny hit my prejudices with a zinger to remember. But as a discussion moderator, I have to admit some trepidation. Will this piece give us a productive way to think about some complicated issues (including this one), or does it cross a line from provocative into offensive?
To phrase this another way: can we talk about this story productively? And if so, what does it seem to be inviting us to consider or talk about?