The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

Preparing For Christmas Season In The Harried Book World: Book #8

“Being a fan of David Ebershoff’s, The Danish Girl and Pasadena, I was delighted to see he was still writing along with his editorial work at Random House. The 19th Wife, brilliantly combines two stories, one, historical fiction about Ann Eliza Young, who defies her church and husband, Brigham Young; the other a modern day murder mystery set in Utah. Ebershoff adroitly gives the reader a behind the scenes glimpse and understanding of a world of faith and love most of us can not comprehend. Initially, you are drawn to the feisty Ann Eliza Young’s story to find one true love, but due to circumstances is forced to make compromises, but then you are pulled into the gripping story of Jordan Scott, an outcast, can’t have too many boys around in competition with the older men, and the son of the woman accused of murdering her polygamist husband. As always with Ebershoff, he stunningly writes with great depth and feeling for his characters, which leaves readers thinking about Jordan and Ann Eliza days after finishing the book.” — Jane Dawson in Indie Bound’s Indie Next List for Setpember 2008

ANSWER ME THIS, WORLD:  If all of Brigham Young’s wives were as whiny as Ann Eliza (the 19th) then how in the world did he live to be so old?

This one received rave reviews, and was even compared to one of my favorites, Wallace Stegner. I’ve read another of Ebershoff’s novels and really enjoyed his writing style. Plus, his first book “The Danish Girl (which is based on the life of Lili Elbe, the first person to undergo sex reassignment surgery) is on my To Read list.I was really hoping to like this one and thought that his past novels might be a credit in the way he was able to handle certain characters while avoiding sterotypes. Not so much.

As the above quote states, this is two stories. The one I like the most (which isn’t saying much) is the modern day murder mystery with the main character being a boy who grew up in a polygamist sect but was abandoned on the highway by his mother, who believe she was following the Lord’s directive, when he was 14. He seems to have settled himself into a somewhat comfortable although transient life in California when one day he sees the story where his mother is accused of shooting his father. He drops everything (which doesn’t seem to be much) to go see her. Immediately, he picks up an orphan sidekick (also ousted from the polygamist sect for being male and thus competition) who reminds me of Brad Renfro in the movie “The Client” except instead of a bad southern accent he would have a bad Utah accent. (And let’s face it the worse someone trying to do a Utah accent sounds the more accurate it usually is.) The sidekick is feisty, foul mouthed, wiley and impossible to control – but has a good heart. After that, he picks up a boyfriend. They’re basically husband and husband after the first date.  However, in order to point out that in the Gay World this is considered taking it slow, the author makes sure to point out that they could have just had sex but instead went out on a date, then had sex, and then immediately were a couple. Thank you for clarifying the confusing gay gay world to a heterosexual such as myself, Mr. Ebershoff.

So two (maybe one?) days after dating the couple (and the trust foul mouthed sidekick!) drive two hours to Las Vegas go to a LDS(ish?) church in Las Vegas for homosexuals, transgendered, bisexuals, and whoever else still wants to go to a Mormon church. It’s somewhat unbelievable – if for the mere fact that the place the group congregates is described as tacky.

So that’s the storyline of the two I like the most.

The second one is set WAY back as the LDS church is first forming in Utah, and is about Ann Eliza Young – one of Brigham Young’s wives. First off, every man (and there are many) in this part of the story is the EXACT same man. The author took one personality, one set of actions, and then just pressed them all in a delightful cookie cutter set. This cookie cutter happens to quite loathsome. Every man might start off not wanting to take more than one wife, but soon they become obsessed with taking a newer prettier wife and can’t help themselves – no matter what the cost to anyone else’s feelings or their budget.

Brigham Young himself is portrayed as a dishonest manipulative bastard who cheats Ann Eliza Young’s brother into a horrible situation ruining his reputation, and then offers him a way out of it ONLY if Ann Eliza will marry him.  Ann Eliza Young is an actual woman in history, and this is actually exactly what she claimed to happen (in addition to writing a book on the subject, she also testified in front of congress about the cruelties of polygamy and was instrumental in getting it banned in the US) so it’s not the portrayl that I have a problem with.  It’s the fact that every other male character is the same shade of evil. That there’s no real variety. Then, the women are exactly the same way – the same copies as each other – all some variation of Ann Eliza Young although just maybe not as boisterous or outspoken about it.

I’ve always liked Ebershoff’s writing style but his tone and storyline were so condescending in this novel. I haven’t actively disliked a book that wasn’t actually poorly written in a long time. I’m not gay but the modern day story offended my inner homosexual. I could not stop rolling my eyes at it. Plus, the portrayal of every single grown man in Salt Lake City to be a randy cheating scum bag bothered me almost as much. 75% of every single grown man sure…

Anyway, from reading reviews and comments it seems as if I’m alone in my feelings.





Leave a Reply


Bad Behavior has blocked 277 access attempts in the last 7 days.