The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

21 Jul

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me by a friend who spent time vacationing in Utah last year.  She likes to pick books relevant to her vacation destination to help enhance her travel experience which I think is a really cool idea.  This was also one of my book club’s monthly picks.

I chose to listen to this book rather than read it, which I’ve since realized was a terrible decision.  This book has 2 primary story lines that are unveiled in alternating chapters.  In between that are letters and diary entries of various origins and it is nearly impossible to keep all of that straight when listening to it.  I believe that regardless of the content delivery though, this book would still have been a struggle for me – a ton of description and detail.

One story line takes place in the near present day and is told from the perspective of an ex-Latter Day Saint named Jordan Scott.  He was excommunicated from one of those sect communes when he was a teenager.  His mom is still living there and becomes accused of murdering his dad.  We follow Jordan as he goes back to his old home to help his mom.  The other story line is about Brigham Young’s wife, Ann Eliza, and the scandalous book she wrote about her life as a plural wife in the late 1800s.  

I learned a lot about the history of the Latter Day Saints and how polygamy came to be a part of their doctrine in the early days.  More importantly, I learned that the present day LDS church has long ago split off from the crazy sect that believes in polygamy.  There are still remnants of the crazy sect around – these are the scary polygamy communes you hear about on the news.  I appreciate a book that can give me this sort of historical information while being mildly entertaining at the same time.

If this book were about a topic less taboo and freakish than polygamy, I don’t believe the other elements of the story would hold up.  The diaglogue is fragmented and unrealistic.  The present day plot is a mystery, but less focus is placed on solving it  than on the internal conflicts Jordan is experiencing.  The mystery is resolved in about 3 anti-climactic lines.   The character development was okay, better in the Ann story, but certainly not enough in either strain for me to feel anything for any of these characters.   I would be lying if I didn’t say I was slightly disappointed that there were no juicy descriptions of they ways of polygamy behind closed doors.  Polygamy is actually really boring.  I would be less irritated by that if there wasn’t an f*** word on every page and a pretty colorful description of gay sex – – being conservative was certainly not the goal of the author and these references looked out of place.

I liked this book for the educational aspect but not as entertainment.  I cannot recommend it as a ‘good book.’  I do recommend this book if you want to learn something new in a unique way and are prepared with the patience it takes to get through it.

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