Wednesday, December 9, 2009

THE 19TH WIFE by David Ebershoff

It doesn't take much to convince me that a religious sect is wacky, but Ebershoff does much more than that. He interleaves a fictionally-enhanced version of the life of Ann Eliza Young, one of Brigham Young's last wives, with that of Jordan Scott, one of the many adolescent boys thrown out of modern-day Mesaland, which houses a Mormon spin-off group that still practices polygamy. What with the elders of the community snapping up all the young girls as wives, there just aren't enough women to go around, and the boys are evicted for the slightest transgression. Ironically, Jordan was left by the side of the road at 14 years old for holding a girl's hand, when he is, in fact, gay. Jordan's first person account of how he returns to Mesaland to solve the mystery of his father's murder has a much lighter tone than the overwhelmingly depressing story of the early Mormons in the 1800s. The author focuses on the subject of plural marriage in both storylines, which was not only encouraged but virtually required until the Mormons put out a manifesto banning the practice, partly because of the bad press Ann Eliza Young gave it and partly to ensure Utah's statehood. How the Latter-Day Saints justified the fact that something as fundamental to their faith as polygamy went from being sanctioned to being prohibited is a mystery to me, but it's even more puzzling why the women thought that allowing their husbands as many sex partners as they wanted was a ticket to heaven. Maybe the women felt they earned it with their suffering.


Terry K said...

Hi Patti!

I haven't checked up on your blog lately - just working backwards from your most recent post, this is the first of the books you comment on that I've read!

I really enjoyed this one, and was, like you, surprised at the women who seemed to not only accept, but embrace, polygamy. It's only human nature, I guess, that the ones that are already "in" would resent the "newcomers," so that the first couple of wives get along fine, but the newer ones have a hard time finding acceptance.

I'm going to check back on your earlier posts to find some other books I've read!


Patti said...

Sorry that our reading lists are not coinciding at the moment. Some of the books we read for book club are a little obscure. Anyway, thanks, Terry, for commenting!