Review – The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

19th wife“Would I accept an ending without end?  Then I saw four wives greet her, kiss her, take her inside the house.  I saw three small children circling her skirt.  I saw her old apron hanging on its peg.  I saw her swing open the door to her room.  I saw her move the windowsill and stroke the leaf of her aloe plant.  I saw my mother on her knees.  And I saw myself in her prayers.”

The 19th Wife follows two stories from two centuries – first we are introduced to Jordan Scott, a young man who was excommunicated from the radical Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints because he was holding his step-sister’s hand.  It’s the twentieth century, but his mother is his father’s 19th wife and he is one of over forty children.  The rest of the story is the fictionalized memoir of Brigham Young’s 19th wife Ann Eliza Young, who went to great lengths to denounce her former lifestyle as a polygamist and Brigham Young’s tyranny.  We get several other points of view throughout, including Brigham Young himself, but for the most part the story focuses on Jordan and Ann Eliza.

I feel like I’ve been a big grouch about the books I’ve been reading lately.  I’ve been judging them so critically and I’m not sure why.  This is a book that started out really strong for me.  I loved Jordan’s story and at first, Ann Eliza’s story seemed relevant and fascinating.  I think the key to having different narrators and different story lines within the same novel is balance.  At the beginning, the balance between the two stories was perfect.  It was suspenseful and meaningful.  But along the way, Ebershoff lost control of the narrative.  The story was heavily on Ann Eliza Young.  Ann Eliza Young really did write a memoir called Wife No. 19, but Ebershoff rewrote it.  I found this to be very odd.  He outlines in the afterward what he did, and it’s an interesting concept.  He basically rewrote it so it included the information he wanted it to.  I’m not really sure how I feel about this.  What do you think?  The original PDF is available on the website for the novel, so I might go back and spend some time reading it to see the differences.

I’m fascinated by the FLDS and polygamy and this novel definitely kept my interest.  While it is flawed, I thought it was a well-written exploration of the FLDS community.  If this is a topic that interests you, then I would recommend the book.  This is by no means a bad book.  I was just disappointed by the ending.  Overall, Ann Eliza’s story was not original enough and Jordan’s story ended too abruptly.  I wanted more Jordan, less Ann Eliza.   Jordan is a very well-drawn character, and I would have appreciated more development of his story.

77%  – Pick it up if you’re interested in polygamy/Mormonism/FLDS.

Also reviewed at:

Farm Lane Books
S. Krishna’s Book Reviews
Dreadlock Girl Reads
Books on the Brain
Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Reading, Writing and Retirement
Presenting Lenore
Caribou’s Mom

6 thoughts on “Review – The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

  1. I enjoyed this book. I did struggle a little bit with the part “written” by Brigham Young, but other than that, it kept my interest throughout. Thanks for the link!

  2. I’m pretty critical about books too, so when I read a string of poorly written ones, I feel like a grouch as well. :/ Hopefully you’ll find one you love soon!

  3. I feel like a lot of books I’ve been reading start out strong but then begin to dwindle. That’s also the risk with a dual narrative – one of them might be better done than the other, meaning you just can’t wait to get back to the other one, and care very little for large portions of the text at a time. It’s too bad this one didn’t have the right balance for you, but I thought you wrote a fair review nonetheless. Not sure how I feel about this one – I’ve heard good things about it, but I’m not sure if it’s for me.

  4. Thank you for linking to my review!

    I agree with you, this book started off well, but had some major flaws.

    I didn’t think that the two seperate stories worked together – they were very different, and were only linked because they were about the same topic – Mormonism.

    It would have been much better just to stick with Jordan’s story.

  5. I read a few reviews about this book, but I’m not sure if I will ever read it. I read Escape by Carolyn Jessop a while ago, which is a memoir/biography of her being in FLDS and escaping from it. I think it’s a great book and I got to know a lot about FLDS from a person who experienced it firsthand.

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