Hidden Wives, Claire Avery

Monday, March 12, 2018

Mormonism as a religion has always interested me. Not in an "I want to be Mormon!" kind of way, but in a "how did Joseph Smith get people to follow him?!?" kind of way. I read John Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven, which did a lot to help me understand the history and theology of Mormonism (and is an excellent book, if you too are interested in learning about religions). Along with that, I've read both fiction and non-fiction about the phenomenon of plural wives; the practice of men taking more than one wife. While the practice is officially banned in mainstream Mormonism, there have been stories in the last decade or so of offshoot cults of Mormonism who still engage in the practice. Aside from the obvious sexism present in the idea of plural marriage, many of those cults are also marrying girls as young as 10 or 11 to much older men, and driving their boys away from the community when they begin to be a threat to the older men's ability to attach themselves to new wives. This has resulted in some high profile raids and arrests.
fascinating history

Claire Avery explores one such cult in her novel Hidden Wives. Rachel and Sara are sisters, living in a fundamentalist Mormon community. Both are in their mid-teens, which actually makes them old maids by the communities standards. Sara has been promised to her uncle, and will be his fifth wife. Distraught, she begins to questions everything about their faith and way of life.  Beautiful Rachel, on the other hand, has caught the attention of the most powerful men in the community. She will be given the "honor" of marrying one of these men, all of whom are older than Rachel's own parents.

Sara begins to think she must find a way to escape, but she is not willing to leave her sister to her fate. Rachel, for her part, continues to cling to the tenants of their faith, stubbornly refusing to admit to herself or anyone else that maybe what they've been taught is not the literal truth about God's plan. But when she develops feelings for Luke, a young newcomer to their group who was forced to come by his parents, she decides that her love for him is stronger than her feelings of duty and guilt about the cult. Finally, Sara knows they have their chance to run.

While Avery does not specifically name the cult as a perverted form of Mormonism (it's called the Blood of the Lamb in the book), the community is clearly based on the Mormon offshoots that have been in the news in the last decade or so. Sara's character is the one I related to the most. She's smart and feisty, torn between her love for her family and her growing concerns about the faith community in which she was raised. Rachel's character was hard for me to like. She was almost cartoonishly naive about the world, and for most of the book appeared to have very little ability to think for herself about much of anything. I understand that was the point; she was so brainwashed by the religious instruction she'd been given that she couldn't imagine or admit that it might be wrong. But her dogged adherence to the tenants of the cult became tiresome after a while. Luke, as a boy dragged along to the community by her newly-converted parents, became the bridge between the girls and their new world, and the love between him and Rachel was pretty sweet.

One of the things I appreciated about the book was the fact that after the girls ran away, everything wasn't suddenly all better for them. Avery showed how difficult it would be for young people, sheltered from modern society, to survive in the real world. The girls knew almost nothing about the world outside the community. Had Luke not come from there, they would never have been able to make their escape. They would have been forced to go back or ended up exploited on the street. The parts of the story where they were figuring out how to survive were some of the best, and it was at that point that I started to like Rachel as a character. While there were aspects of the story that were not totally realistic, there was enough there to keep me engaged, and as quick, easy reads go, it did its job.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Penny for your thoughts...