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The 19th Wife: A Novel, by David Ebershoff (Read by Kimberly Farr, Rebecca Lowman, Arthur Morey, Daniel Passer)


Cast out of Mesadale as a "lost boy" at 14, Jordan Scott has survived life on the street for six years and is finally establishing a stable life in California, complete with job, van, loving friends, and faithful dog, Electra. When he sees a news account of a 19th wife killing her polygamous husband, he recognizes his mother and father as the attacker and victim. Although she'd abandoned him on a lonely highway 6 years earlier, he cannot believe she'd ever murder anyone, so he returns to Utah to find the real killer. An earlier 19th wife, Ann Eliza Young, wife of Brigham Young, also achieved notoriety for her response to polygamy in the 1800's. Her story and the early history of the Mormon religion are told in a secondary narrative that weaves in and out of this modern day murder mystery.

David Ebershoff's ambitious fictional account of both early Mormonism and current fundamentalist offshoots of the religion is fascinating. He is careful to point out that the Church of Latter Day Saints has not condoned polygamy since the late 1800's and that the fundamentalists are not considered Mormons. In telling his stories, he employs journals, reports, sermons, newspaper articles and Ann Eliza's book, Wife 19, or the Story of a Life in Bondage. He even quotes the Brigham Young University fabricated masters' thesis research of a young woman who befriends Jordan. Part of what makes the book so interesting is that while the characters he describes really existed, he reminds listeners that this is a fictional account of the events and relationships. For the curious listener who wants to separate truth from fiction, an Internet search leads to Ebershoff's Web site, containing information about Ann Eliza and numerous links to information about polygamy, LDS history, and many more issues addressed in his book.

The narration of this book is especially effective because it is done by four readers, two men and two women, who speak the lines of the 19th and 21st century characters. The 19th Wife is a feast for many appetites, providing factual information and insight for the historian, the sociologist, the economist, the psychologist and entertainment for the casual reader and mystery buff. Book clubs would find enough to analyze and discuss in this book to fill many, many sessions. The 19th Wife is highly recommended for both entertainment and enlightenment.

Ruth Mormon
9/26/08

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