Friday, April 17, 2009
(Really) Big Love: "Shattered Dreams"
Our book club is preparing to discuss former polygamist wife Irene Spencer's "Shattered Dreams," and for the first time in forever, everyone has read the whole thing. I gotta give it up to my fellow club member, B., for suggesting the book. It's addictive — equal parts legitimately thought-provoking and tawdry.
I love learning about fringe cultures, and the world of polygamy certainly qualifies. Spencer, who was raised a fundamentalist Mormon, was the second of her husband's 10 wives, and she gave birth to 13 of his children before she was 35 years old. That would be wacky enough, but Spencer and her fellow sister-wives lived miserable, destitute existences in Central America, struggling to feed all their children and maintain their sanity. As a reader, I was torn between feeling great sympathy for Spencer and wondering when she was finally going to wise the &@#* up and leave her clueless husband, Verlan.
Verlan doesn't come across as a bad guy so much as dim and insensitive. It's clear that his wives' happiness is not his first priority, and though he appears to care about his kids, he can't possibly be present for all of them, let alone provide an acceptable quality of life. He's often away working in the states while his brood lives without running water, electricity, enough food or basic health care. The book is full of WTF moments, like Verlan praying before sex because he believes getting it on for reasons other than procreation — with your own spouse — is sinful. One night during a move, Irene and a dozen of her children have to crowd into the cab of a broken-down truck during a thunderstorm. When she begs for permission to have (finally) her tubes tied, Verlan spins some nonsense about how doing so would prevent or "trap" unborn souls from entering the kingdom.
The book's title really ought to be "Why Fundamentalism is Ridiculous." Whenever Irene questions the rules, she is simply chastised for putting her soul in jeopardy or not having enough faith to adhere to God's teachings. Never mind that polygamy is a bum rap for women or that having multiple children you can't afford to support is irresponsible at best. This sect is told constantly that if people fail at polygamy, they are the problem.
I'm really looking forward to the discussion next week, and reading "Shattered Dreams" makes me want to learn more about the history of polygamy in America and where it stands today. Oh, and I've gotta rent "Big Love" now.