Title: The 19th Wife
Author: David Ebershoff
Published: 2009 Random House
Read For: Monday Night Book Club
Honestly? I had a hard time reading this book and would not have picked it up in the first place were it not the August selection for my Monday Night Book Club, simply because the subject matter is not an easy one for me to read about. This fact may color my review.
This book tells a dual story: first of Ann Eliza Young, an historical figure in the Mormon Church's early days who escaped a plural marriage with Brigham Young; second of Jordan Scott, the estranged son of a plural wife in modern day Utah accused of the murder of his father, her husband. Because of the semi-biographical nature of part of the book (Ann Eliza Young did exist, was married--and divorced--from Brigham Young, and wrote her autobiography "Wife No. 19" in 1875) it often left me confused, wondering what parts of the book were real, and which were imagined. The Author's Note and Reader's Guide in the back of the book answered many of these questions, and I almost wonder if it would have been better to read these prior to reading the novel; perhaps it would have allowed me to relax into the story more.
The novel mixes articles and letters into the two different narratives, and generally does a good job in pace between the different time periods (it seemed heavy on the modern story at the beginning, and heavy on the historical story at the end.) The modern portion had too much swearing for my taste, although it wasn't unrealistic considering the circumstances, and not quite so extreme as to be overwhelming. One of the minor characters at the beginning of the novel (Roland) seemed rather clichéd to me, which made it difficult for me to get into the book.
What stayed with me after reading the novel is the tension I felt throughout. The author did a great job showing the effects of plural marriage: the disheartening destruction of self-worth, not only for the women involved, but for the children. What a horrible thing to use someone's faith and conviction as a means for condoned abuse. The corruption and pain in this book made it difficult for me to read much at a time. The small flickers of hope weren't enough to dispel the atmosphere of heartbreak. Do I feel more educated? more empathetic? Yes, I think I do. But I also feel sad. Somewhat hopeless, and sad.