David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife alternates between a historical fiction take on Ann Eliza Young and the modern day mystery in which Jordan Scott finds himself. Ann Eliza Young was a wife of Brigham Young, leader of the Mormon church in the late 1800’s. Her story is told through an imagined memoir she wrote, starting with how her mother came to join the Mormon church and their move westward. The reader watches Ann Eliza grow up in the church and eventually becoming a wife of Young. It is not a happy marriage, though, and she makes national headlines when she sues Young for a divorce.
Meanwhile, Jordan Scott, who grew up in a fundamentalist sect but was kicked out at a young age, learns that his mother has been arrested for killing his father. Jordan doesn’t believe his mother is capable of murder. Because she is the 19th wife in the polygamist household, Jordan suspects that there could be others with a motive to kill his father, and journeys from LA to Utah to dig deeper.
The 19th Wife is a fascinating read. I loved the character of Jordan and his sidekick dog, Elektra. While he has his personal flaws, the reader understands how much he has grown since his mother abandoned him on the side of a road. The people he meets and his inability to abandon them despite his past gives him a depth not easily found in fictional characters. I admit that I found myself wishing that more of the book focused on his character and less on Ann Eliza Young. The historical fiction part appears to be well-researched, and I find myself interested in knowing how much was fact and how much was imagined. The book’s website has the real memoir Ann Eliza wrote, Wife No. 19, available as a pdf. I would like to find the time to peruse it.
I did feel like the ending was wrapped up a little too quickly. As I approached the end of the book, watching the number of pages grow smaller, I wondered how it could possibly be resolved. Ebershoff ends it well, it just felt a little rushed.
I plan to add this to my school library this fall. It will appeal to anyone with an interest in the FLDS sects or murder mysteries.