The 19th Wife: A Novel - David Ebershoff What can I say?

I really hated the ending. Was it an OK book? No, it really wasn’t, but I did learn some stuff about the Latter Day Saints, or the Mormons as they are also called, and also their split with the Firsts. Here is what bothered me:

I disliked the mixing of a modern mystery paralleled with an exposition of facts about the history of the Mormon Church. Therein lies a discussion of the destructive role of polygamy, a too sweet story about a contemporary gay relationship and the resolution of a murder mystery. The historical information about the Mormon Church is extensive and is done in an “inventive” way. The reader is given quotes and speeches and parts of a doctoral work on Mormon beliefs, including a study of one prophet’s wife, Ann Eliza Young, who became an apostate and almost single handedly worked to for the abolition of polygamy in the Mormon Church. These historical tidbits are presented as facts, but they are in fact fictional. They are not real documents, quotes or excerpts but they tell the truth. Even a fictive quote from Wikipedia is added. These “historical chapters” chop up the modern day mystery thread. In the chapters devoted to the historical information, some of the texts were meant to be documentary in nature - they were so dry! The chapters devoted to the present day used acronyms that I had difficulty figuring out, but I am not American. I had to stop the narration and think – what do those letters stand for! If one is to pick ONE central theme, it is the destructive role of polygamy.

The book hopped all over the place: not only between the two different story threads but also different points in time. This was confusing. I listened to the audiobook, which used several narrators. You would think that the use of several narrators would make it easier to understand who was who, but no, this didn’t help. One chapter I listened to the entire thing and only at the end did it finally become apparent who had been speaking. One of the women narrators was better than the others. I actually started getting absorbed into the story, but then wham o, the focus flipped to another time and place.

The book was too long and repetitive. It could definitely have been edited. The reader is told the same thing by several people and in several versions. One chapter, where Brigham Young was in prison, we had already been told what would happen, and yet I had to listen to about 50 minutes of his boring blab to come to a conclusion I already was informed of. Talk about “unreliable narrators”! This author doesn’t pull the technique off in an engaging manner. Ughhhh. David Ebershoff is certainly no Nabokov! I really came to hate Brigham Young! I saw little nuance in his character, other than that he perhaps started with high ideals as a youth, but these disappeared with age.

I should note that while others love mystery novels, I don’t. Maybe that further explains my dislike….

All that I can say in terms of praise is that occasionally the author had some great sentences. Like: “Memory is a scrap of lace. It is full of holes”. That, I liked and there are others. The description of the desert landscape, in all its colors, was beautiful.

So the book isn’t all terrible, but it wasn’t OK either, and I was left with a sour taste given the ending.