Monday, April 4, 2011

The 19th Wife

by David Ebershoff
Feb 9 - Mar 30, 2011

The 19th Wife: A NovelWell, that was more like homework than pleasurable reading. The first quarter of took me longer than reading all 507 pages put together. I mean who writes historical fiction with fictional footnotes?! How can a reader possibly flow through a book with ease when she has to stop to read fake citations, made-up Wikipedia entries and pretend newspaper clippings? I'll give the author credit for his ambition, but I guess I just don't get it.

Another case in point, in the acknowledgments section, Ebershoff writes, "This is a work of fiction. It is not meant to be read as a stand-in for a biography of Ann Eliza Young, Brigham Young, or any of the other historical figures who appear in it." Which leaves me with the question, why bother?! It took me nearly two months to read The 19th Wife. Two months of my (reading) life that I will never get back. And it's not like I learned anything. Yes, I know it's a work of fiction, and fiction is what I prefer to read, but historical fiction tends to have a bit more truth to it than this novel. I don't know, I'm just having trouble understanding the author's point. If I'm going to read about the history of the Firsts, I would hope I could learn a little something.

There were actually two stories being told simultaneously. The first is a fake book, entitled The 19th Wife, written by Ann Eliza Young. Ann Eliza was the supposed 19th wife of Brigham Young and wrote the book in an attempt to rid America of polygamy. (Near the end of the book, a footnote states that she was actually more like his 52nd wife?!) The second is a modern-day tale of a young gay man shunned from the Saints and his attempt to prove his mother's innocence. Jordan's mother, also a 19th wife, is accused of killing her husband. In my opinion, Ebershoff should have simply written a fiction novel revolving around these 20th century characters and called it a day. I wouldn't have been left wondering what the point was of the majority of the book. The modern "half" was much more interesting, but was not given nearly as much attention. Out of the 500 pages, I would guess that only 150 of those pages were dedicated to Jordan and his mother.

I'm on to much more lighthearted material. Can't say I would recommend this one.

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