The 19th Wife
By David Ebershoff
Random House, August 5, 2008
I must admit, I went into this book with little to no knowledge of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, polygamy, or the more fundamentalist sects that have branched off from the Church. Well, I only know the more stereotypical things about LDS. I have also never read a book by David Ebershoff, although I will admit that I have his book Pasadena, which has been faltering on my TBR shelf for more years than I care to admit. After reading The 19th Wife, it will probably be brought forward multiple spaces to be read soon.
I did not know what to expect as I opened the book. I had not heard much about it, but when I got the offer to read it for Mr. Ebershoff’s blog tour and saw the beautiful cover, I snapped it up. And I am so glad I did.
This ambitious novel strives to tell many stories all at once. There are several threads being juggled here, but Ebershoff does an admirable job of keeping everything straight and wrapping it up neatly by the end. The main two stories are parallel accounts of polygamy. One takes place as the LDS church was just getting started and one takes place in the modern era. The first describes Brigham Young’s 19th Wife, Ann Eliza Young, and her expulsion from the church and subsequent crusade to abolish polygamy. The second is about another 19th wife and is a modern-day murder mystery set in a polygamist cult in Utah.
Ann Eliza Young’s diary if fascinating, not only as a look at the beginnings of Mormonism, but also as a look at our early pioneer days. Through her diary we witness the religious tyranny and the rationalization of the act of “celestial marriage” that befell the women of Mormonism. Not to mention the complacency the women showed when yielding to the men of the church. Young’s diary, along with other such testimonials come together to paint an unforgettable portrait of these times.
Jordan Scott is shocked to find an article in the paper detailing his mother’s apparent murder of his father. Excommunicated years earlier after being found holding his sister’s hand, he hasn’t seen or heard from her at all. Despite this, he heads back to talk to her and find out what really happened. Upon hearing her state that she did not kill him, he decides to do a little detective work and find the truth. He risks his life in investigating the cult and prove his mother’s innocence.
As good as these two stories are, I had one small problem with them; Ann Eliza’s sections were much more interesting that Jordan Scott’s. I liked his character well enough, but I found the sections in the past to be much more fascinating. Despite Ebershoff’s slight failure to create a balance between the two sections, I found the characters to more than make up for it. This is a very interesting novel, one I highly recommend.
11:00. I could have pressed on, but my eyes were just too heavy.
2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
The Graveyard Book, Coraline, a book of short stories
3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
No, you run a pretty tight ship!
4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
All the mini-challenges were fun!
5. How many books did you read?
3.5 for me, 4 with Ellie, so 7 total
6. What were the names of the books you read?
James and the Giant Peach
Getting the Girl by Markus Zusak
1/2 of The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales
Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa: School Days
The Big Cowboy and the Little Cowboy
7. Which book did you enjoy most?
Matilda was my absolute favorite!
8. Which did you enjoy least?
Hm…they were all good. Probably The Big Cowboy and the Little Cowboy
9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
I didn’t do it, but to those of you who did; THANK YOU!!
10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
I think I’d like to try again. I had a few unexpect and unavoidable problems, what with Wesley feeling so awful. I would probably be a reader, I’m just not the cheerleader type!
Thank you Dewey, for this awesome challenge! And good night everyone who made it all the way through!
I hate to admit it, but I conked out around 11 last night. Trying to read all day with a fussy baby (VERY FUSSY) just wore me out. So when he woke up, again, at 10:30, I crawled into bed with him. I did manage to read for about 30 more minutes, but sleep won out. He got me up at 4:30 this morning, burning up again!, and I’ve been reading since around 5. I picked up Getting the Girl by Markus Zusak, mainly because it was small and it was in the shelf beside my bed and I’ve polished off about half of it. I think I can finish it before 8.
Books Read: James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, half of Getting the Girl, several stories in Coyote Road.
Books read with Ellie, since Andi asked: Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor, Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa: School Days by Erica Silverman, The Big Cowboy and the Little Cowboy by Margaret Hillert, and Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth.
Yep. I got a little distracted, which I totally expected to happen. Firstly, I had a whole chicken that I needed to cook, so I threw it in the crock pot to roast slowly with some olive oil, roasted garlic and rosemary. In a few hours I will throw it in the oven to crisp up the skin. I had to feed Wesley again. I got him down for a very brief nap. Then we had to go get the girl and bring her home.
I did my best to read through all of it and I’m almost finished with James and the Giant Peach and I read one poem and almost all of another short story from The Coyote Road. So I’m off to play catch up. I hope you are all doing better than I am! I’m afraid most of my reading will come when everyone goes to bed!
Well, you know how I had been counting the hours until 8 got here and I could start reading? Well, promptly at 8:00 Wesley decided to…how do I put this delicately…make a stinky. So I lost 5 minutes changing the diaper I had just changed 20 minutes earlier to make sure he’d be good for an hour or two.
But once that was done, I got 55 good minutes of reading in! I started with the first story in The Coyote Road, a collection of stories edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. The first story is called “One Old Shoe”. This collection are all Trickster Tales, those gods who balance good and evil, who can’t be trusted, who always go the way most convenient for them. This one was about the Navajo Coyote trickster. It was pretty good.
Next I moved on to James and the Giant Peach. Thought I would ease my way in gently with an easy read. It is definitely easy. I just love Dahl. I had forgotten.
A couple of quotes:
Here is James Henry Trotter when he was about four year sold.
Up until this time, he had had a happy life, living peacefully with his mother and father in a beautiful house beside the sea. There were always plenty of other children for him to play with, and there was a sandy beach for him to run about on, and the ocean to paddle in. It was the perfect life for a small boy.
Aunt Sponge was enormously fat and very short. She had small piggy eyes, a sunken mouth, and one of those white flabby faces that looked exactly as though it had been boiled. She was like a great white soggy overboiled cabbage. Aunt Spiker, on the other hand, was lean and tall and bony, and she wore steel-rimmed spectables that fixed onto the end of her nose with a clip. She had a screeching voice and long wet narrow lips, and whenever she got angry or excited, little flecks of spit would come shooting out of her mouth as she talked.
Now I’m off to visit around a bit, then more reading.