The Sound of Gravel is an ultra-compelling story. Ruth Wariner is her mother’s four child and her father’s thirty-ninth. Her mother was the fifth wifeThe Sound of Gravel is an ultra-compelling story. Ruth Wariner is her mother’s four child and her father’s thirty-ninth. Her mother was the fifth wife of Joel LeBaron, “the prophet” of the LeBaron fundamentalist Mormon colony in Chihuahua, Mexico. Ruth’s father died while she was still an infant after which her mother became the second of her step-father Lane’s four wives. I can understand why men are drawn to polygamist cults like this. It feeds their egos, gives them an exaggerated idea of their own manhood, and allows them to indulge their carnal desires all justified in the name of religion. No matter what losers they are, their wives will fight over who gets to take care of them and spend time with them, and because taking multiple wives and siring as many children as possible is a tenet of their religion and not a personal choice, they are under no obligation or responsibility to support their families. For women like Ruth’s mother who choose to stay despite the terrible cost to themselves and their children, I can’t understand it. That poor deluded woman who was perfectly willing to sacrifice their children for a promised afterlife, how could she do it?
Ruth’s childhood is gut-wrenchingly sad. Her mother is a true believer, and as a result she subjects herself and her children to abject poverty and squalid living conditions in the name of eternal salvation and protection against the ever-impending End of Days. Because all of the men in the colony have more wives and children than they can possibly afford, all of the women in the community commit welfare fraud via false addresses in the United States. While lying and stealing are generally considered “sins,” as one of the colony’s main sources of funding, everyone feels entitled to take advantage of Babylon’s (aka the United States’) generous social benefits. Because they are “doing the Lord’s work,” they deserve to have someone else support them in their chosen lifestyle.
And it’s not just poverty that mars Ruth’s early life. It is constant instability. Her mother and step-father move the family around with no regard for the children’s welfare. They don’t care about their living conditions, or their education, or their basic levels of sanitation. The defining factor of Ruth's mother's home in the colony is “the smell of mouse droppings.” A lot of the time they didn't have electricity or running water. Fellow residents of their trailer park in Texas reported the family to Child Protective Services, and there is almost a moment when the reader thinks Ruth and her siblings will be taken away and given a chance in life, but Ruth's mother manages to lie her way out of the situation ... although she does get two years probation during which the family has a greater than usual degree of stability.
Her mother Kathy produces children, some of whom have serious cognitive and developmental disabilities, at an alarming rate, and unlike her second husband’s Mexican first wife, it is beyond her ability to care for them in even the most elemental way. While Alejandra can cook, clean, and sew and taught her daughters to cook, clean and sew as well, Kathy’s only domestic skill seems to be baking bread in tin cans and getting pregnant. As the oldest girl without a disability, Ruth is the default caretaker expected to take up the slack from her mother. She was forced to leave school to help with her younger half-siblings. While Ruth’s half- and step-siblings are clean and at least moderately well dressed (perhaps their relatives in the United States send them money to assist; Lane is a total deadbeat), she and the children in her mother’s household are almost exclusively filthy and dressed in a dirty hodgepodge of ragged clothing. They are barely fed, and aside from the time they spent in California with her mother’s parents, they subsist on homemade bread, beans, and rice.
After over a decade of low level abuse, Ruth finally has an epiphany. "I realized then that I couldn't count on [my mother's] promises and began to wonder why she didn't seem able to protect my siblings and me. I just couldn't understand it." As if living in squalor and instability isn’t bad enough, Ruth’s mother cannot even keep her children physically safe from their stepfather. Ruth’s step-father molested her for years and years. She told her mother the first time, and her mother “talked” to him after which he promised it wouldn’t happen again. He then continued to molest her for years. When she and two of his other step-daughters finally came forward, much to the dismay of his wives, the Elders banned him from the colony for two years. Surprisingly -- or unsurprisingly depending upon your experience -- the adult women blamed the victims. The girls were “pretty,” so naturally he would be sexually attracted to them. They enjoyed him touching them. He was just grooming them for their husbands. It could have been worse -- meaning that it was only fondling and no penetration, and they were just being spoiled brats about it. They should consider how much their step-father has suffered and how humiliating the accusations were for him. They are ruining his life by continuing to bring up his sexual abuse. They need to forgive like Jesus says in the Bible. It is disgusting.
Tragically, (view spoiler)[it is only the death of their mother (hide spoiler)] that allows Ruth and her surviving maternal siblings to escape to a life of relative safety and stability with their extended family in the United States. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
After reading The Museum of Extraordinary Things, I wanted to see photos of what "the living wonders" could have looked like and read about what kindsAfter reading The Museum of Extraordinary Things, I wanted to see photos of what "the living wonders" could have looked like and read about what kinds of lives they could have led apart from show business. This book is fascinating but sad. The information on any one person is not particularly extensive....more
Below Stairs is a highly readable memoir about life as a domestic servant for the British upper classes between World War I and World War II. While thBelow Stairs is a highly readable memoir about life as a domestic servant for the British upper classes between World War I and World War II. While there are no great insights, it does give a good sense of what it would be like to work "below stairs" as a kitchen maid. Since Powell worked exclusively as a kitchen maid, she seldom ventured upstairs, so her perspective is solely on the behind the scenes happenings....more
I always liked Gary Shteyengart's interviews better than his actual fiction, so I was intrigued when I learned he'd written a memoir. There were pointI always liked Gary Shteyengart's interviews better than his actual fiction, so I was intrigued when I learned he'd written a memoir. There were points when I laughed out loud but many more when I cringed. The author didn't do the best job selling himself as a sympathetic character at crucial points in the narrative.
Although I was mortified on the author's behalf much of the time, I did enjoy many of the glimpses into his family life. As an ethnic Slav raised in communities exclusively populated by the descendants of Englishmen who only married other descendants of Englishmen, it is very very rare that I find someone whose family culture is even remotely similar to my own. The majority of English language literature pictures only lives derivative of English culture, which often leaves me feeling very lonely. ...more