Saturday, September 15, 2012

The 19th Wife

"I know it's hard to believe people really talk like that, but consider this: if you didn't know anything else, if your only source of information was the Prophet, if you spent seven hours in church on Sunday listening to a man who claimed to have a direct line to God, who your father and mother swore was a Prophet, and your brothers and sisters, and your teachers, and your friends, and everyone else assured you, promised you, his word was the word of God, and those that he damned were damned for all of eternity, you'd probably believe it too. You wouldn't know how to form a doubt." -Jordan Scott, The 19th Wife (p37)

The 19th Wife is two stories in one book. First there is the story of the first 19th wife, Anne Eliza Young who lived 1844 to an unknown date. She was considered the 19th wife, but a more correct estimation would be that she was 55th out of 57 wives of Brigham Young, the second Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (LDS or Mormons). Half of this book tells about her history, her life in the church, her first, horrible marriage, and her second, even more bitter, marriage to the Prophet. After leaving the church she set out on a mission to bring down the institution of polygamy, and after a long and difficult battle she did manage it. The church denounced polygamy as no longer the will of God and threatened to excommunicate anyone who practiced it. Yeah, we know how that went.

The second story in this book is the tale of another 19th wife, BeckyLynn Scott who was accused of murdering her own husband around 2007 in Mesadale, Utah where a group of Saints broke off from the church to continue their lifestyles. They call themselves the First and True Saints (Firsts to anyone refering to them). BeckyLynn's son, Jordan Scott had been forced to leave the community at the age of 13 for holding his stepsister's hand. Jordan, who is gay, knew it was really to get him out of the way as the church had done with many teenage boys so that they could not marry the girls, creating what the outside world has labeled a group of "Lost Boys." Jordan revisits Utah to see his mother since she is no longer in the world of Mesadale, and he ends up staying to help her prove that she is innocent.

Let me be sure that I state that while the people of this book are real and that for the most part the events did happen, this book is one of fiction. Think of it as a historical fiction, one in which the author cannot be too sure of the details so he went ahead and filled in the blanks, exaggerated a little here and there, and rounded out the story that was left somewhat lacking in the original materials.

I know you would think this is horrible that someone would take such liberties with a tale so big, but while it was a rather large event that changed much of history of the LDS church, Anne Eliza's story was one-sided and often full of holes. The author did his best to give the reader a better version. And I believe that he succeeded. This story made me want to dig deeper into the history of Anne Eliza and the Mormon church. It gave me just enough to want to talk about it, enough to have some opinion, and enough to want more.
David Ebershoff does not pass judgement on the LDS Church, I feel I must say, but simply tells a story that was already there. Most women were unhappy in polygamist households. Although I believe there was at least one family that did not suffer, except maybe financially, between the two wives of one man. And he does express the beliefs that have led to mulitple wives. I believe it is merely the circumstances of plural marraige that leads outsiders to roll their eyes, and say "Seriously, you believe in what?" This book simply lays down the story of one very unhappy woman that saught to end polygamy, and one woman who felt comfortable in the lifestyle, while her son was the one who felt betrayed by the institution.

The stories in this book were wonderful. Although I must say a lot of what happened did make me a little sick to my stomach, I felt in the end I was able to put the book down and feel glad that I had taken the time to find the book and read it. Of course I pride myself on being open to all subjects when it comes to my taste in books, so I must say this book may not be right for everyone. I do encourage all to pick it up, though, for at least the chance to read somehting so wonderfully written. I found the style of the book fascinating. I feared at first that it might confuse me, the way he jumps between stories, but in fact I was pushed forward by the different approaches he takes to telling the story.

This book was one that sparked my need to discuss the story with others, something I always look for when reading a novel. So if anyone has read this book or finds the oppurtinuty to do so, please, let me know what you thought of it. I am keeping this one for my shelves, but mostly to have it on hand. So if you would like to borrow it, I will find a way to get it to you if you will promise to give it back in the end. This is a book I think most people should give a try.

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