Friday, June 25, 2010

Hidden Wives by Claire Avery

Some authors have a story to tell but lack the ability to tell it. Some authors are prolific writers but have no story to tell so they blather for pages about nothing. Then there are those books that capture you completely with not only a compelling story but a voice that holds the reader's attention for hours on end.

This is one of those books.

Sara and Rachel are best friends and sisters. When I say sisters, I really mean that they share a father but not a mother. They live in a fundamentalist society in Southern Utah. Both girls are 15, although Rachel is a few months older than Sara. Their father is not a rich nor powerful man. Essentially, he has had very little to offer to the community hence has had very little opportunity for advancement in the church. Celestial Marriage is a requirement to enter the kingdom of God. Three wives is the minimum to enter into God's presence. How is marriage arranged, you may ask. A man gets a "testimony" of marriage for a particular girl in the community, takes it to the prophet who prays about it and grants or denies the request.

Rachel happens to be the oldest daughter of Abraham Shaw, a particularly self-centered and cruel man in the community. He loves to slap his children around with open and closed fists and possesses, on his property, a whipping shed. Imagine his dismay when the prophet requests his attendance to a meeting regarding his very beautiful daughter, Rachel. She's had 16 men in the community request her hand in marriage. They have all had testimonies revealed to them. Why would this happen? Clearly, Rachel is a seductress and a whore and requires the devil to be beat out of her. Of course, she complies because she is submissive to the priesthood in her home.

Then there's Sara, tall, angular, and starting to doubt a few doctrines of the church. First, it is her nature (wicked child). Second, a new family has joined the cult fold. The father is a man of means. He has money to offer along with a construction company to build a new meeting house for the saints. He also has a very handsome and headstrong son, Luke, who fills Sara and Rachel with all kinds of wicked talk. He doesn't believe the prophet is called of God. He is shocked that 13 year old girls are being married off so easily and told to multiply and replenish the earth. He is also world wise and knows why so many babies tend to have birth defects (shallow gene pool). Third, Sara has a literal and metaphorical experience that opens her eyes to the frantic nature of their situation.

Luke wants to run away. This won't be difficult since he's quickly assessed that boys his age are few and far between. Where have they gone, he wonders. Rachel patiently pats his arm and explains they have gone for further training and will return to build the kingdom. When? he asks. Uh, says Rachel. They just don't come back. But Rachel's testimony is unwavering and absolute. She believes the prophet is nothing but part God.

Sara, on the other hand, witnesses a bartering deal between the "prophet" and another man and then witnesses a woman's death which barely stirred the air. She correctly concludes that every woman in the community is expendable.

Little do they know, the worst is still to come. 

My take

I kept forgetting that I was reading a book since it played in my head like a movie. Scenes morphed beautifully and included such extensive research on the FLDS culture and church (which simply can't be separated).

I enjoyed having two protagonists with different personalities. All of the characters remained true to their personality to the very end. I particularly enjoyed the way Rachel did not just bounce back when her two worlds collided, causing a psychotic episode which is very believable.

Irvin was an interesting twist. His mouth echoed what he heard but his writing had different ideas. As did Sara's journal, I suspect. The moment he found his voice being the moment that Rachel discovered the ironies of her life and Sara found freedom - brilliant.

And more...
This is Mari and Michelle, a.k.a., Claire Avery. They happen to have a unique childhood. They grew up in a Catholic fundamental family. Extreme Mormons apparently no longer hold the corner on the market. Don't let their pretty faces fool you. Behind those gorgeous masks lurk brilliant minds.

I am not a polygamy expert. I have, however, read a number of books on the topic. Many of them have a story to tell but don't tell it well. I have, however, read one memoir that I would recommend by Dorothy Solomon, daughter of Rulan Allred, who gave a balanced voice to polygamy. 

Balanced in the way she presented her information. She never told the reader how to feel or think. She simply presented her experiences that included both happy times and frightening times. She also included stories that would send a little bit of bile into your throat. Dorothy Solomon is also now an active member of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Her story is written with an understanding of early church history regarding polygamy and the LDS perspective (we ignore it like the creepy uncle in the attic).

I have found that a number of authors who have attempted to write a novel about a polygamist group sprouting from the mainstream Mormon church slaughter the Mormon church in the process. Mari and Michelle accurately portrays the obstacles the FLDS woman faces. It is brutal.

Highly recommend. 

My rare five stars.


Riahli said...

Wow. Must read. I just finished Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer and found it fascinating and frightening.

CountessLaurie said...

Adding to goodreads... sounds good!