All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff

on September 16, 2010

It’s not often I’m daunted by large/long novels. I’ll happily sit down with a brick and devour it without feeling intimidated or like time is dragging. And this novel is a hefty 500+ pages hardback, so I wasn’t too bothered when I checked it out of the library. I had heard such amazing things about it around the blog world. I was quite looking forward to diving into it.

The 19th Wife is more than just one story. In present-day we have excommunicated First Latter Day Saint Jordan, who is compelled to return to Utah after more than five years away from the place when he finds out that his mother (who is wife #19) has been charged with murdering his father. When Jordan was a teenager, his mother left him by the side of a road (at the insistence of the ‘Prophet’) at 2am after he was caught holding hands with his stepsister Queenie. It was an entirely innocent situation (Jordan is not of the liking-girls persuasion, something else that probably would’ve gotten him kicked out at a later date) but male-female mixing is barred in the community beyond a certain age. Despite still being furious at his mother for what she did, Jordan knows that he’s all she has left so he leaves his new life in California to go back and see her and he hits the road in his van with his dog Elektra, back to the place where he grew up, back to the place that turned its back on him. Technically members of the Church aren’t even supposed to ‘see’ (acknowledge/talk to) excommunicated members and once he figures out that his mother didn’t pull the trigger, he starts trying to clear her name. That proves to be a fraction difficult when everyone is reluctant to talk to him and he is escorted (or run off) the compound.

Tied in with this story is that of Ann Eliza Young – another 19th wife. Married to Brigham Young (the 2nd President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) in about 1868 when she was 24 and he was 67, she was actually around the 52nd woman to marry him but the way in which the wives were numbered (this is very important later on) means that she is mostly referred to as Wife #19. She filed for a divorce from Young and later travelled around the country lecturing against polygamy and raising awareness of the situation of hopelessness and poverty for polygamous wives. She penned a memoir named Wife No.19 which this novel draws upon for bare facts – the fleshing out of Ann Eliza’s story is a work of fiction from the mind of Ebershoff.

This novel was an education in many things, particularly the Church of the LDS. I admit that my knowledge of most religious organisations is sketchy at best – religion isn’t something widely taught in Australia unless you attend a school run by one of the churches and then they teach only  that religion’s beliefs and ways. The most I knew about Mormon’s was that they practiced polygamy and weren’t averse to knocking on your door at inappropriate times to discuss your possible salvation. It was fascinating to be presented with both sides in this story – firstly through David Ebershoff’s imaginative writings of Ann Eliza Young as she is a young child, seeing her mother’s devoutness and being devout herself. She does after all agree to marry Brigham Young even when she doesn’t want to as she believes that it is what God wishes for her. Eventually though her faith leaves her and we see also Jordan’s disillusionment with the faith and how it failed him and many other youths. Those whose faith is not true are discarded from the sect without a second glance and parents also often sacrifice their children in order to escape when their faith leaves them.

I enjoyed this book but I do have to say, it took me far longer than I expected to complete it. I was bogged down a lot of the time, particularly in the writings that focused on Ann Eliza. I often found my concentration slipping and I’d have to go back and re-read passages just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I did enjoy the present-time story also. The background was well done, I liked Jordan as a character and the offsiders he collected along his way. It was a bit of a shame the way it wrapped up, it felt as though the ending was just out of left field and produced at the drop of a hat – maybe I’m just slow! But I didn’t feel it was executed smoothly, it felt a bit hasty and clunky. And a bit disappointing.

I liked this novel enough to keep reading and I enjoyed it but I didn’t really love it enough for it to hold my undivided attention.


(Book #66 of my 75 Book Challenge)

One response to “The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff

  1. I felt very similar to you. I finished this book, but it was a struggle at times.

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