Russell Y. Anderson
Forge Books, 2010
Reviewed by Russell Y Anderson for the Association for Mormon Letters
(Editor's note: an additional review, by me, will be sent out soon.
Russell caught much of the idea of the book; I will have a few
additional thoughts. JN)
Hidden Wives is an engaging story about two sisters and their lives in a
polygamous society. The older (by a few months) more beautiful sister
Rachel must be "placed" into a marriage before Sarah can be married. Now
that they are approaching their 16th year, events are moving forward for
those marriages. Sarah is promised to her father's half brother and the
prophet must decide which of the 16 men who have received a testimony
that they are supposed to marry Rachel will actually be her future
husband. That leads to an interesting twist where the prophet decides it
should be a 17th man.
I would think that this story is a composite of several real-life
stories of people that are living a polygamous lifestyle. However, there
is no room in this story for a foundation of faith and religion. For
Hidden Wives this is simply an example of lecherous men who let their
evil motives control the lives of wives and innocent children.
Even though the Blood of the Lamb church is obviously based on the
Mormon church, this book seems to depart from that foundation
unnecessarily. No Mormon church would ever have a "massive pine cross
suspended from the ceiling above the lectern." (p. 34) Nor would you
expect Rachel to have been "soothed" by the cross. Normally, after an
opening hymn, there will be a prayer, but one of the apostles gives a
short speech instead of a prayer that concludes that a wives duty "is to
bear the fruit of your husband's seed" (p. 34). Applause is also very
out of place in a Mormon meeting, but it was very common for the Blood
of the Lamb meeting.
It would seem that positions of power and influence can be bought in the
Blood of Lamb church. I have known of one person who joined a polygamous
group in Manti, Utah, who was also ordained an apostle for what seemed
to be a response to his large donation. So I suppose that even though
this is very foreign for LDS church leadership, this does seem to occur
for fundamentalist groups.
We are treated to a short history of Joseph Smith as one of the wives is
required to teach school. The facts about Joseph Smith are not always
accurate, but that might have been intentional to show the limits of the
teacher. For example she says that the Book of Mormon was written in
Egyptian, instead of the more accurate "reformed Egyptian" because
Hebrew would have taken too much room.
I also find it amazing that just to satisfy a teenager, both he and the
two sisters are allowed to participate in a full temple ceremony. But I
suppose this could also be an attempt to show the separation from LDS
practice of the Blood of the Lamb group.
The girls' father and the prophet are very clearly the villains in this
story. The father whips Rachel because other men found her attractive
and interesting. They are so easy to hate as they make decisions that
violate normal social norms and marriage practices.
It is very interesting to see the process of first Sarah and then
eventually Rachel seeing the false foundation of prophet Silver's
teachings and decisions. Overcoming racism also find its way into this
story as the process of education and growth continues to the point that
both Sarah and Rachel are able to escape.
This is a believable story of overcoming indoctrination and limited
experiences. It moves well and draws you into the action and events.
Although this is a fun book to read, I think it takes an approach that
is too simplistic. It is easy to see polygamy as simply evil men who are
guided only by passion. But that doesn't explain the reason for all
those that have desired to live in polygamy. If you watched the recent
reality TV show Sister Wives, you saw a very different perspective
that showed a loving father and husband that tried hard to live a
difficult lifestyle. I think it is too easy to simply assume the worst
for the people that practice this type of marriage and family life. It
would be more honest to examine the spiritual foundational reasons that
lead people to do something that is very much against their cultural
(Claire Avery is a pseudonym for sisters Mari Hilburn & Michelle Poché.)