Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Review: Avery, "Hidden Wives" (reviewed by Russell Y. Anderson)


Title: Hidden Wives
Author: Claire Avery (a pseudonym for sisters Mari Hilburn & Michelle Poché)
Publisher: Forge Books
Genre: fiction
Year Published: 2010
Number of Pages: 336
Binding: Paperback
ISBN10: 0765326892
ISBN13:  978-0765326898
Price: $14.99

Reviewed by Russell Y Anderson for the Association for Mormon Letters

(Editor's note: an additional review, by me, will be sent out soon. Russell caught much of the idea of the book; I will have a few additional thoughts.  JN)

Hidden Wives is an engaging story about two sisters and their lives in a polygamous society. The older (by a few months) more beautiful sister Rachel must be "placed" into a marriage before Sarah can be married. Now that they are approaching their 16th year, events are moving forward for those marriages. Sarah is promised to her father's half brother and the prophet must decide which of the 16 men who have received a testimony that they are supposed to marry Rachel will actually be her future husband. That leads to an interesting twist where the prophet decides it should be a 17th man.

I would think that this story is a composite of several real-life stories of people that are living a polygamous lifestyle. However, there is no room in this story for a foundation of faith and religion. For Hidden Wives this is simply an example of lecherous men who let their evil motives control the lives of wives and innocent children.

Even though the Blood of the Lamb church is obviously based on the Mormon church, this book seems to depart from that foundation unnecessarily. No Mormon church would ever have a "massive pine cross suspended from the ceiling above the lectern." (p. 34) Nor would you expect Rachel to have been "soothed" by the cross. Normally, after an opening hymn, there will be a prayer, but one of the apostles gives a short speech instead of a prayer that concludes that a wives duty "is to bear the fruit of your husband's seed" (p. 34). Applause is also very out of place in a Mormon meeting, but it was very common for the Blood of the Lamb meeting.

It would seem that positions of power and influence can be bought in the Blood of Lamb church. I have known of one person who joined a polygamous group in Manti, Utah, who was also ordained an apostle for what seemed to be a response to his large donation. So I suppose that even though this is very foreign for LDS church leadership, this does seem to occur for fundamentalist groups.

We are treated to a short history of Joseph Smith as one of the wives is required to teach school. The facts about Joseph Smith are not always accurate, but that might have been intentional to show the limits of the teacher. For example she says that the Book of Mormon was written in Egyptian, instead of the more accurate "reformed Egyptian" because Hebrew would have taken too much room.

I also find it amazing that just to satisfy a teenager, both he and the two sisters are allowed to participate in a full temple ceremony. But I suppose this could also be an attempt to show the separation from LDS practice of the Blood of the Lamb group.

The girls' father and the prophet are very clearly the villains in this story. The father whips Rachel because other men found her attractive and interesting. They are so easy to hate as they make decisions that violate normal social norms and marriage practices.

It is very interesting to see the process of first Sarah and then eventually Rachel seeing the false foundation of prophet Silver's teachings and decisions. Overcoming racism also find its way into this story as the process of education and growth continues to the point that both Sarah and Rachel are able to escape.

This is a believable story of overcoming indoctrination and limited experiences. It moves well and draws you into the action and events.

Although this is a fun book to read, I think it takes an approach that is too simplistic. It is easy to see polygamy as simply evil men who are guided only by passion. But that doesn't explain the reason for all those that have desired to live in polygamy. If you watched the recent reality TV show "Sister Wives", you saw a very different perspective that showed a loving father and husband that tried hard to live a difficult lifestyle. I think it is too easy to simply assume the worst for the people that practice this type of marriage and family life. It would be more honest to examine the spiritual foundational reasons that lead people to do something that is very much against their cultural background.

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