Review: Acid Test, by Christopher Kimball Bigelow

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Growing up Mormon during America’s early-1980s satanic panic, Bigelow escapes the religion’s bland conformity by playing Dungeons & Dragons. After graduating from high school in 1984, he dives into sex, drugs, and the counterculture via Salt Lake City’s punk and new-wave scenes, as echoed from London, New York, and especially Los Angeles.

As Bigelow explores the underground, he rejects myths of supernatural good vs. evil, living instead by the D&D concept of chaotic neutrality. During LSD trips, however, he starts sensing an unseen dimension. Then Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic novel The Stand gets him reconsidering good vs. evil. After an alarming otherworldly attack, can Bigelow find spiritual protection in Mormonism’s processed, regimented, corporate culture?

Published January 14th 2020 by Zarahemla Books

ISBN:0999347233 (ISBN13: 9780999347232)

My Review

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this book.

In 1988, after finishing school, Christopher Bigelow went the teeniest bit wild, at least by 1980s Salt Lake City Mormon standards. For two years he hung around with punks, tried LSD, drank, smoked and fell in love. He tried different things, pondered on good and evil, then went home to him mum, dad, and nine siblings to be a good little Mormon and go on his Missions to Australia.

This book is a snapshot of a time, place and culture that is fascinating and slightly disturbing. He describes the atmosphere of late 1980s Salt Lake and the punk scene very expressively. His angst at the corporate nature of his faith and his attempts to rebel, before finally returning to his family fold and finding a measure of peace is a classic coming of age narrative.

I am almost definitely not the target audience, considering my thoughts on some of the odder aspects of LDS beliefs, but I’m sure it’ll appeal to teenage Mormons, or their parents in a ‘look, it’s been done, and someone with that pedigree came back to the Church’ sort of way. Talking of, the author talks a lot about his Mormon ancestry, apparently the Kimballs and Bigelows have been Mormons since the beginning of the church.

I learnt something of the history of Mormonism and the culture especially in Salt Lake City of this unique religion. I have former friends who are former members of the faith and I’ve read a autobiographies of women who escaped the FLDS (the polygamists led by paedophile Warren Jeffs), so I had some knowledge, but this is quite detailed about what goes on in the Temples.

I truly hope the tone of the writing reflects his attitude then, rather than his attitude now, because he comes across as a judgemental, Queerphobic, somewhat pretentious little brat. I hope Tina, the girl he was in love with, finally got help for her abuse trauma and bulimia. Oh and his sister too. It made me wonder how many other LDS girls were being abused or had mental health problems and weren’t getting any help because of the religious beliefs of the adults in their lives.

Interesting book, nice bit of insight into the culture of an unusual Christian sect.

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