"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

I find polygamy fascinating; not like an option to be explored but like a train wreck. Remember the Austin Powers scene where he can't take his eyes off that woman's mole? He stands there saying 'moley, moley, moley' and so on. That's how I feel about polygamy. I just stand there with my mouth hanging open staring at it, 'polygamy, polygamy, polygamy'...

Why any man in his right mind would willingly take on more than one wife is beyond me. The problem more typically is getting them to take on even one! Forget 19. 19 women to tell you to take out the trash and mow the lawn. If Dante were around to see that his hell would have had ten circles.

But I digress....

What I liked was the way this book is composed. There is the historical fiction story about Brigham Young's 19th wife (which is debatable in itself because no one can even conclusively say how many wives he actually had), there's the more modern day fiction about polygamist compound in 'current' existence, and then there's research, items from church archives or newspaper stories from the time. All three of these things are coordinated so you read two stories and some background research simultaneously. At the beginning I found this frustrating but as I went I realized that having so many points of view added to the story and to the horror the reader feels about polygamy.

I liked that this book provoked a deeper level of thinking and debate about polygamy. Lance and I spent a couple of hours debating polygamy. Not in a 'to be a polygamist or not to be a polygamist sense' but we talked at length about the psychological damage polygamy inflicts on the women AND the men, why that would be, and how it's cyclical once it starts. We also discussed the difficulties the church faced when the decision to strike polygamy from the 'rule' book was made. The author doesn't speak of the administrative nightmare that must have been but how do you guide a man with 12 wives, who married them at your direction, that now he is not following the will of God but quite the opposite? What instruction is he to be given? Surely he cannot be encouraged to abandon 11 of 12 wives and countless children in order to be on the right side of the 'new' doctrine. So the burning question- how to strike polygamy from minds, hearts, and histories? It obviously cannot be done. It is no great wonder that rogue sects of polygamists broke off and colonized elsewhere in an attempt to escape the eyes of the federal government and 'gentiles'.  My faith in anything runs thin so it's hard for me to imagine supporting any idea so whole heartedly but I can't help but wonder, if Lance and I were told tomorrow that it was no longer appropriate for us to be together and in order to get into Heaven we would have to split up, what would we do? I know what I would do- I would tell the messenger to go straight to hell and promise to see him there if that's what living my current life required of me in the end.

You will find an official plot line description at:

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