The historical part of the book starts with Ana Eliza’s mother’s back story and conversion to LDS (Latter Day Saints), her marriage, and her devastation when her husband is ordered by the prophet to take a second wife. As the narrative goes on, we see how plural marriage negatively affects nearly everyone involved, certainly the wives who become jealous, petty, and bitter, but also the husbands who don’t have enough resources to cope with so many wives and children, and then the children who must compete for affection with scores of others. We also see how anyone who disagrees with the doctrine of the church (or Brigham Young’s whims) is systematically destroyed (emotionally, financially, physically or all three).
The modern day part is a fascinating look into polygamy as it exists today (a very timely subject considering the recent raid on a compound in Texas). The main character here, the teenaged Jordan, is definitely damaged from his abandonment, but is resourceful and forgiving enough to help his mother with her legal woes (she’s been accused of killing Jordan’s father). He enlists help from a colorful cast of characters, including 2 young Mesadale runaways, a sympathetic postmaster in Mesadale, a hotel worker with which he has a romance of sorts, and a step-sister Queenie who still lives within the compound and is now married to one of its police officers.
Though this novel is almost 600 pages long and includes many historical documents, it never felt like a chore to read. I don’t read that much historical fiction, but interestingly enough, the last one I did read (and loved), Kurt Anderson’s “Heyday” covered roughly the same time period and even explored some of the Mormon settlements that appear here. I also knew some about Mormon history going in (I did live in Utah for 2 years), but this filled in a lot of blanks.
I am very glad I got the chance to read this, and highly recommend other readers check it out when it comes out on August 5th.