The 19th Wife

The 19th Wife

By David Ebershoff

This novel intertwines the story of Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young, with a modern day murder mystery involving FLDS polygamists.

Young, although a wife of a major figure in Mormonism, tells her story and then fights tirelessly against the injustice of polygamy on women and children. The contemporary story is about Jordon Scott, a “lost boy” (for those of you who don’t watch Big Love or don’t know anything about Fundamentalist Mormons, they kick out teenage boys in order to secure the affections of the young women for the Prophet and other big wigs in the community) and openly gay man, who comes back to Utah after his mother has been arrested for the murder of her father.

This novel began on a high note and had me spellbound but I found myself caring less and less about every freaking detail of Young’s life and more about the modern mystery. It was also confusing that, even though Young wrote a very famous (I use the term ‘famous’ loosely as most people outside of Mormonism have no idea about her or anything she did) book, everything written in her voice is complete fiction. To me, this seems odd, especially paired with all of the research Ebershoff obviously did for this novel, but he is VERY clear that nothing is historical truth.

I have to admit that as the book went on, it felt more of a flaunting of research about Mormonism than a solid plot that could stand alone. By the end, I skimmed through Young’s sections because I couldn’t bear to read 10 pages of rambling about the mundane details of her life and only looked forward to Jordon Scott. But to be perfectly honest, I found this character to be somewhat offensive. Ebershoff discusses a religion which is known to be one of the most close-minded and conservative religions existing today (particularly the fundamentalist branch) and it feels like he made his protagonist gay simply to show “I’m not like them, see! I put in a gay guy… I am so in touch with the gay community!” Yet, this gay character pretty much follows every stereotype a person could have. He has extremely feminine features, he sleeps with other gay men extremely easily, gay people are instantly attracted to one another and find each other easily… it was pretty obnoxious.

Though, in terms of stereotypes, I was glad that not all Mormons are painted as being the same as FLDS. Mormons are generally shown to be decent –hearted people who want to distance themselves from the wrongs committed by their ultra-conservative brethren.

But, I barreled through to get to the conclusion which, frustratingly was a complete bust. If one takes in the rest of the novel and the clues throughout, nothing about the ending makes sense and happens so quickly that it feels thrown in at the last moment.

Let’s face it, plot was secondary when Ebershoff was writing this. He obviously wanted to show off knowledge and research about the FLDS and the origins of Mormonism and threw in a plot just to keep things moving.

I can’t say I wasn’t entertained as, like many people, because Mormonism is such a secretive religion, I find myself wanting to learn more and more about it. If you want to learn about the origins of the religion and contemporary customs and their origins, this is a great book to read as he is approaching the subject without bias, but if you know all you want and are seeking a compelling and rewarding plot, move along.

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