Sunday, January 9, 2011

The 19th Wife

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

Picture this:
          Driving in a little fairly new Mazda Protege (so new, that in fact you are still forking out $200 a month for car payments). This little car has served you well, considering not too long ago you packed up everything that you could- along with a couple of siblings- and made the trek, across the country to settle here for a few years. The house that you just moved into is a few miles away from the rest of the town, the front yard is nothing but a bunch of rocks- with not a tree in sight. There was a little bit of trouble finding this home, because you are sharing it with two guys, and the townspeople frown on a male and female sharing a house- let alone one girl and two guys. Having just moved in, unpacked your few belongings and in search for a few necessities- toilet paper, some food and a home decoration or two, you set on the road to the only store that is open at this hour- Walmart. Driving the 2 miles back down to town, all you can see is the land. The land is very dry and rugged, and to the right and left are enormous red mountains. Bright red rock is everywhere; it almost looks as if the mountains and the land are on fire. This is all you notice on this two mile excursion to the local Walmart. Afterall, what you see outside is only through your headlights because it is very late into the night.
            At the local Walmart, you gather some bread, peanut butter and jelly (the necessity for any student), toilet paper, some shampoo and then on your way to the check out lines you see them: a group of women, all dressed in neck-to-ankle-to-wrist light blue and white (almost grey) gingham dress. This is not a crisp new dress like Laura Ingalls Wilder, but rumpled, worn and stained with life's hard work. All of them, maybe four or five women total, look exactly the same except their hair. Yes, all of their hair is a thick straw-like blond, but it is up, poufed at the top and in a long single braid in the back. Their shoes are dark and worn, their stockings lightly gather around the ankles, as if these clothes had been passed down from girl to girl. None of them notice you, because their heads are all bowed and their gaze is directed at the floor, all shuffling along together like a pack of wolves, but more like a pack of wolf cubs scared of the world. You sense a sadness in them, not sure whether they are saddened by their own lifestyle or saddened by everyone else's lifestyle. You can't help but stare at these few polygamists for a second, before you check out and head home. These next two years of grad school are sure to be interesting.

What David Ebershoff writes in The 19th Wife is real (to an extent). There are still polygamists in the world, I am not sure if they behave the way Ebershoff details, but one can only assume that the emotions with plural wives runs high. The historical accounts of the Latter-day Saints' beginnings, rallies, and exodus to Zion- the land of the red rock, is all outlined with truth. The difficulty of finding one truth is the same in any religion and Ebershoff states this in the Author's Note. Faith is a funny thing and people believe the craziest things. I am not stating that the Mormon faith is right or wrong, or that my faith is right or wrong- I am saying that someone so deep in faith (whatever faith) believes that what they are doing is the right thing. For awhile, during the read of the book, I thought BeckyLynn was just blaming it on her faith, her faith made her do it- it wasn't her, it was god acting through her. That wasn't the case at all.

I found the historical accounts more fascinating than the Jordon Scott story; however, I see the need to juxtapose the two. The parallel story of Jordon's story with Ann Eliza's makes the book more believable.

My first few months in grad school, I studied the Mormon religion. Studied in a sense that it I was curious about it. I wanted to find out what the religion was all about and it began to fascinate me. The stories in The 19th Wife fascinated me. I kept turning the pages, expecting to find the answer of why. Why did people first believe Joseph Smith? Why was there so much resentment towards the first Latter-day Saints? Why all of the sudden did Joseph Smith and Brigham Young bring the idea of plural wives into the picture? Why did they settle in Utah, of all places? Why, if they are that upset with their lives, don't they just leave? Why can't you just say no? Why are they brainwashed to drink the metaphoric- but all too real- juice? Why? The book brought none of these answers, but answered them all in one word. Faith.

Why do we believe the things we do?

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