Sunday, August 24, 2008

by Carolyn Jessop with Laura Palmer

Available in hardback, Kindle, Audio CD and Audio Download. Broadway, 2007; ISBN: 0767927567; 432 pages.

I admit it: I have watched every episode of Big Love to date. Polygamy fascinates me. It also confounds me. I want to understand how Rachel and Leah or Sarah and Hagar or even Michal and Abigail and so many other women of the Old Testament shared their husbands. How did they do it? What was it like for them? I have trouble sharing my kitchen; I would never survive having to share my husband.

To quote the cover: "I was born into a radical polygamist cult. At eighteen, I becme the fourth wife of a fifty-year-old man. I had eight children in fifteen years. When our leader began to preach the apocalypse, I knew I had to get them out." This book is mostly an autobiography, but it's an alert about the inner workings of the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the shocking and often news-worthy side of the Mormon Church).

The preface details the night of her escape, but chapter one begins with her birth. The author tells of her relatively normal, though somewhat abusive childhood; how she raised in a "royal" family of FLDS and taught religion from her very first breath, always aware of her priviledged position on Earth. Chronologically she records her life, her marriage into an extremely disfunctional family and the power struggles within her house and her community. As her life became more restricted and the rules of her religion more extreme, she felt the need to escape and devised a plan to do so. The book continues through their assimilation to life outside the cult, how she obtained full custody of her children (According to FLDS law, mothers have no right to their children, but bear them only as gifts to their husbands and as paths to salvation for themselves.), and how she finally found love.

Introduction over. I didn't finish the book. After 235 pages I had had enough. The book covers a very interesting subject and an amazing story, but the writing is just awful. I felt like I was reading an 8th-grade book report. It was a facts-based, unemotional retelling of what happened. "We went here. I said this. He said this. We had sex." The author seems completely unattached. What's worse is she fills the historical account with modern commentary, telling us why what so-and-so did was wrong or how this event that happened then contradicts her expectations now. The memoir is filled with contempt. Rather than a victor's story of "I am stronger because of what I survived," this story is a bitter victim's tale of "I'm better than my past and I never should have gone through this." I consent she has reason to feel this way, but her story would have been so much more effective if she had offered a personal, but objective view instead of telling the readers what to think.

Final Thoughts: I'm going to keep looking. I want to learn more about the topic, but am thoroughly disappointed with this book. There has to be a better one available.


Courtney Vail said...

This book sounds like it has the premise to be an inspirational journey of escape; too bad it fell to pieces. Thanks for the heads-up. I'm not a big fan of memoires, but if I read one, I like it to heartfelt and deep yet not preachy.

Take care.

Tanya said...

I agree. I need memoirs to read like novels.