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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Slog Commenter Book Report 5: “Erin” Chooses the 19th Wife

posted by on September 30 at 11:18 AM

As you know by now, I bring a batch of advance reader copies to Slog Happy, with the caveat that the person who reads (or tries to read) the book has to review it for all of us here on Slog.

Today’s reviewer would prefer to remain anonymous, so I will refer to her as “Erin.” “Erin” is reviewing The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff, a book that I reviewed in Constant Reader a few months back. Anything you don’t like about this review no doubt is due to the editing process and not at all “Erin”’s fault and you should blame the editor. I am the editor.


I’m wracking my brain, attempting to recall the last time I picked up a book that was nearly 600 pages long. Not only did I pick this book up, but I finished it within a week of cracking its cover.

When I saw The 19th Wife at Slog Happy, I lunged for it. I’d heard the hype surrounding this book, and, growing up in a predominantly Mormon community as a high schooler (although I myself am not Mormon), I was familiar enough with the religion to be intrigued by a novel of its earliest days. This book weaves together two stories—of Ann Eliza Young, the supposed 19th wife of the (in)famous Brigham Young, and of Jordan Scott, a young gay man who was excommunicated from a modern-day polygamist community. Also thrown into the mix are several other documents, including a fictional Wikipedia entry, a letter written from Brigham Young while he was incarcerated, letters from Eliza Young’s son Lorenzo, and inquiries from a college student at BYU writing her thesis on Ann Eliza’s life.

I’m usually put off by an author’s attempt to weave two separate stories into one work, and the beginning of this book was no exception. My primary problems with this style of writing is that I feel myself drawn towards one story more than the other and the number of characters grows to be so large that I find myself mixing them up or forgetting who certain characters are. At the start of this book I was more intrigued by the story of Jordan Scott than I was by the Latter Day Saints’ beginnings. However, as I read further, I felt myself becoming more involved with both storylines and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next in each one. Ebershoff has a great ability to distinguish his writing style between the stories in a way that they both don’t appear to be written by the same person, which is a difficult skill to master. Also, the number of characters does not grow to such an overwhelming level that it’s difficult to keep the stories straight. I never had a problem remembering what happened previously as the author jumped from story to story.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in reading a fascinating, thought-provoking story that will be remembered for a long time to come.

Many thanks to “Erin.”

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I too read this book in under a week despite its length. I would recommend it as a mystery fan as it has that element but the historical details are interesting too.
Good read!

Posted by Kathleen Dixon | September 30, 2008 11:33 AM

Thanks for the review, "Erin." I agree, it often annoys me when authors jump between story lines and especially when they introduce so many characters into each different story line that you have to keep flipping back to figure out who's who. Good authors can do this so seamlessly that you lose yourself in the story and the shifts aren't jarring. Sound like this book is like that.

Posted by PopTart | September 30, 2008 12:05 PM

I'll send in my review soon. Took a while to read the book I got.

Posted by Will in Seattle | September 30, 2008 8:03 PM

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