Monday, January 19, 2009

The 19th Wife - David Ebershoff

If you enjoyed Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven or are fascinated by the HBO show "Big Love," then this is the book for you. Ebershoff's novel has two separate focuses - in present day, a polygamous sect of the Latter-Day Saints is alive and well in Utah, and a man with upwards of 25 wives has just been shot and killed, alledgedly by his 19th wife. When the woman's excommunicated son finds out, he returns home to help investigate. While the murder mystery unfolds, Ebershoff goes back in history to the beginning of the Mormon religion, and ultimately to Brigham Young's 19th wife, famous for divorcing her husband and becoming an anti-polygamy activist. The historical part of the story is told through diary entries, journalistic accounts, and fictionalized research papers. Given the recent focus on the Mormon religion in the media, I feel like most people are basically familiar with the history of the religion and polygamy's role in it. For this reason, much of Ebershoff's story seemed old hat. I was more interested in the murder mystery, though the twist in the whodunnit was predictable. This was a book I got into quite quickly and I liked the idea of it - and all the feminist issues that are wrapped up in polygamy, and the idea that it is quite difficult to give up the ideas you are raised with, not matter how crazy they sound to outsiders. This was a good story, but I didn't feel like it presented anything too original in the attempt to be scandalous polygamy genre.

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