All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Glovemaker by Ann Weisgarber

on March 5, 2019

The Glovemaker 
Ann Weisgarber
2019, 287p
Copy courtesy Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

In the inhospitable lands of the Utah Territory, during the winter of 1888, thirty-seven-year-old Deborah Tyler waits for her husband, Samuel, to return home from his travels as a wheelwright. It is now the depths of winter, Samuel is weeks overdue, and Deborah is getting worried.

Deborah lives in Junction, a tiny town of seven Mormon families scattered along the floor of a canyon, and she earns her living by tending orchards and making work gloves. Isolated by the red-rock cliffs that surround the town, she and her neighbors live apart from the outside world, even regarded with suspicion by the Mormon faithful who question the depth of their belief.

When a desperate stranger who is pursued by a Federal Marshal shows up on her doorstep seeking refuge, it sets in motion a chain of events that will turn her life upside down. The man, a devout Mormon, is on the run from the US government, which has ruled the practice of polygamy to be a felony. Although Deborah is not devout and doesn’t subscribe to polygamy, she is distrustful of non-Mormons with their long tradition of persecuting believers of her wider faith.

But all is not what it seems, and when the Marshal is critically injured, Deborah and her husband’s best friend, Nels Anderson, are faced with life and death decisions that question their faith, humanity, and both of their futures.

I knew nothing about this book before I received a copy but the cover intrigued me from the first glance and as I’ve mentioned quite a few times before, I’m really fascinated with the polygamist lifestyle so this was always going to be up high on my list.

Deborah was raised in a polygamist family, with her father having two wives. However she and her husband Samuel are not practicing themselves, having moved to a remote location occupied by only a handful of other families, who are all Mormons. Apart from one family (who are questioning their decision) the town families do not practice polygamy. In fact they’re not particularly devout in the ways of the church at all, which has resulted in the church sending Deborah’s sister and her husband to the town with the intent of bringing them all back into the flock.

Junction is a very remote town and they often get travellers through in the kinder months, generally men who are fleeing the law and seeking an even more remote location which is a safe haven for those practicing polygamy. Deborah is surprised when she receives a traveller to her door in January, one of the harshest months. With Samuel still not home, Deborah is nervous but not enough to turn the man away. She gives him shelter for the night and then puts him the way of her brother-in-law, Samuel’s brother who will help him reach the place he seeks. The man lets slip that he’s being pursued, which means he brings trouble to their small town from those who won’t understand that although they’re Mormon, they’re a different type of Mormon.

Deborah and Samuel have been married a long time but they’ve never been blessed with children (something that I think a lot of the more devout people of their faith find a little suspicious). Samuel’s job often takes him far from home in the warmer months so Deborah does seem to spend a lot of time on her own. She has her brother-in-law and the more recent arrival of her sister and her family in the town has given Deborah some more company – and also responsibility, as her sister is expecting her third child in five years and Deborah provides a lot of practical assistance. When Samuel is late, Deborah doesn’t worry at first, but as the days tick on, she cannot help but be concerned. Samuel is knowledgeable and can take care of himself but she also hasn’t heard from him at all and as the weather worsens, the dangers increase.

So Samuel is no where to be found when the stranger knocks on Deborah’s door and brings trouble. Even though she knows he is more than likely being pursued, Deborah doesn’t turn him away. But even she could not have predicted just how much trouble this stranger would bring to their tiny town, when the Marshall arrives along behind him. They are a tiny town, only a handful of families, all of whom have seemingly moved there to find peace and a more temperate version of their religion (apart from Deborah’s sister and her husband, tasked with bringing them back into the more devout fold). I really liked the idea of the small, mostly self sufficient community, who rely on Samuel’s trips to places far and wide to bring back supplies for them a lot of the time. It was obviously a very inhospitable place in winter – my knowledge of Utah isn’t great, but I know there’s mountains that have snow on them probably year round and it looks like it has the potential to be seriously cold. As an Aussie, my idea of cold is probably pretty lame. But the author does a good job of making me feel like I was there with Deborah, trying to erase any signs of the stranger from the snow in her yard and trudging to her sister’s place, or to her brother-in-law’s place.

Deborah and her brother-in-law Nels have to make some very difficult decisions in order to protect themselves, the stranger and their way of life. Deborah is then burdened with an extremely difficult task and this is something else that Ann Weisgarber really showcases well – the story of the stranger, why he is running and from who, the threat the Marshall brings to the town and their way of life and the prejudice he holds about them, as well as how the decisions they make affect them and what they must do in order to live with the choices they’ve made and be comfortable with them.

The narrative is mostly Deborah’s, with a few chapters from Nels’ perspective and also some letters that Samuel has written Deborah from the road. The book goes back and explains how Deborah and Samuel met and came to be married and I really liked the little glimpses of their relationship. I found myself hoping that Samuel had just been inexplicably delayed and would stroll into town at the end to much fanfare and full of stories.

I am really interested in polygamy and all the opinions about it and reasons for it. It has a lot of darkness in its past, relating to abuse and oppression of women and children and marrying pretty young teens off to old blokes to be their 15th wife or whatever, which is pretty terrible. But I find it really interesting in a modern setting – mention the word and I’ll read any book, watch any tv show. I honestly don’t get the hate for it that some people have today, and the way they regard the people who practice it as second class citizens. As long as there is no abuse and all the adults are consenting, I’m more of a live and let live type of person. It’s not my choice, but that’s not to say it can’t work for some. I find the mental and social aspects of it really interesting, particularly the relationships between sister wives, rather than the relationship between the husband and all his wives. I think in this book, I would’ve liked a bit more about Samuel and Deborah’s decisions to move away, not practice polygamy, to lessen the grip the church has on them. But overall, I really enjoyed this – I liked the characters and the way they interacted, I liked the low-key threat to their lifestyle and what they’d chosen and eked out for themselves and I liked the setting. It was a very interesting novel and it’s definitely put Ann Wesigarber (who has previously been Orange Prize Longlisted) on my radar.


Book #38 of 2019

Going to count this one towards my Reading Women Challenge 2019 for the 20th category, a historical fiction book. It’s set in 1888. It’s the 6th book completed for the challenge.

4 responses to “Review: The Glovemaker by Ann Weisgarber

  1. This one sounds fascinating and very much the type of novel I enjoy.

  2. […] Historical fiction book – The Glovemaker by Ann Weisgarber. My review. […]

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