Title: Gilda Trillim: Shepherdess of Rats
Author: Steven L. Peck
Publisher: Rroundfire Books
Year Published: 2017
Reviewed by Rachel Helps
This is a strange and delightful book about a woman named Gilda Trillim who wrestles with questions about how objects relate to one another and what her incredible religious visions mean. It is not funny like The Scholar of Moab; it is earnest and thoughtful and weird.
Why make this a work of fiction, when so many of the issues that Trillim deals with are the same as the ones that come up in Peck’s essays? At first I didn’t understand what the point was of having such an elaborate frame story, especially when so much of the “thesis” was “presented with no further comment.” I couldn’t tell if this was hasty writing or poking fun at scholarly commentary that draws attention to itself through its own “no comment.” I also wonder if it’s easier to deal with “weird” religious ideas through a fictional character. And why would Peck have his characters cite his own poem that hadn’t been written yet? Peck doesn’t care as much about the internal consistency of the citations as he does the story he wants to tell, which is probably for the better.
I feel like these a very minor quibbles compared to the spiritual insight I gained when contemplating the ideas this book brings up. The ending and the above-mentioned poem about the ant really puts into perspective how to God, or a god, humans must seem like a lower life form hardly worth caring for. There is probably a lot more going on that we aren’t in a position to understand. But the love that God shows us and we Them; their relationship–is what makes our lives feel significant.
This book is especially significant to me because I have been wondering about spiritual questions that are similar to the ones Trillim addresses, like how scripture stories are actually more powerful to me as stories than as some kind of historical document, or how on some level, the details of apologetics completely intrigue/enrage/disappoint/confuse/bore me and I’m much more interested in hearing about and having authentic religious experiences. In the end of the book, the scholars’ disagreement about if Trillim was crazy or not reminded me of arguments over the veracity of Joseph Smith’s visions. People try to make it into an either/or question, when the truth is probably more complex.
I love how when Gilda is meditating on love and encounters other people that she has the hardest time loving them. I love the vision Gilda has of her existential questions represented by a paper wolf that she decides to run towards. I love Gilda’s vision of Heavenly Mother. I love the metaphors about independence being like a chicken glad it is rid of its feathers and how knowing God by trying to understand His parts being like trying to understand a person by knowing how their liver works. I hope that I can continue to meditate on my favorite parts of this book and become more comfortable with my own religiousity.
Some quotes from the book that I liked:
“We boast about our individuality and hold up our independence like a plucked bird bragging that now without the weight of all those feathers it will be able to soar higher than its fellows.”
“To me, wherever [God] are, they are. I just know them through encounters. Claiming that I have to know about them before I know them is like saying I have to be able to know what your liver is like to genuinely know you.”
“Freedom, if it emerges like magic from consciousness (like the conjuring of consciousness itself!) seems best recognized in the choices made for love.”
“What if the eternities are open? What if there is no set eternity to which we are heading? No teleology, as Bergson argued, to which life must aim. What if new emergences occur on the grandest scale of all and God Himself is participating in a dynamic and open existence?”
“I cannot imagine God is up there following some rulebook (or cookbook) that maps out all that must or should happen.”
Rachel Helps is the Harold B. Lee Library’s coordinator of Wikipedia initiatives, where she offers trainings on how to edit Wikipedia and writes and edits Wikipedia pages related to the library’s holdings. Some of the pages she contributed significantly to are those for Lucinda Lee Dalton, Leonard Arrington, and the contemporary section of Portrayal of Mormons in Comics. She helped her sister, Andrea Landaker, write a newlywed relationship simulation called Our Personal Space, and they are working on the sequel which focuses on raising children. Rachel is a self-proclaimed Steven Peck fangirl.