Luisa Perkins’ newish novel, Dispirited, personifies evil in the form of Zared, a spirit who steals the body of Blake Something, and inhabits the body for most of the boy’s teenage years. Inside of Blake, he causes the body to indulge in vices—pornography, heroin, pedophilia—which horrify his step-sister Cathy, and cause her to engage in a struggle to expel Zared from Blake’s body, and return it to its rightful spiritual owner.
Thus the theological questions are ushered in: What is the source of evil? How are the spirit and body related? Is the spirit responsible for the body’s actions? Can one person’s spirit be replaced by an evil one? What is spiritual identity?
Perkins’ novel not only raises these questions, but brilliantly tackles them with impressive complexity and texture. Zared didn’t just overtake Blake by magic; Blake’s body was vulnerable from grief over the loss of his mother. And Blake’s “true” spirit is personified too, in the innocent, powerless figure of a little boy. It’s not a black and white story—everything is shrouded in a difficult veil, which forces the reader to reflect on what they really believe about sin, agency, and the soul of man.
Should novels address these kinds of issues? The answer is a clear “duh”—novels provide a new lens with which to study reality, and how to cope with it in humanity. Whether or not Perkins’ novel accurately reflects Mormon dogma is irrelevant; the fact that she chooses to talk about Mormon issues at all sets her novel apart from the floods of cheap literature that line most “Best Sellers” shelves. Perkins’ premise provides an opportunity for readers to think—not just be entertained—to question—rather than just memorize answers. The closer our literature gets to reality, the better, and Perkins’ novel approaches spiritual reality in a way that is laudably accessible for people.