The Sound of Gravel is an ultra-compelling story. Ruth Wariner is her mother’s fourth child and her father’s thirty-ninth. Her mother was the fifth wiThe Sound of Gravel is an ultra-compelling story. Ruth Wariner is her mother’s fourth 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 stepfather 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 endless opportunities 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 moral 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. Her own parents eventually got wise and left the cult, but she bought the "poor but rich in spirit" baloney hook, line, and sinker. I realize she had been brainwashed and wasn't terribly bright, but I still can't understand who would really want to serve a god like this. That pitiable deluded woman who was perfectly willing to sacrifice her children for a promised afterlife. She saw everything as a test of faith and part of the "God's plan" instead of the direct result of the actions of herself and others. It was horrible to watch the abuse and neglect that she visited upon her children through strict obedience to her delusional religious beliefs. If you ever wanted evidence for why human rights restrictions need to be placed on the freedom of religion, this book has plenty.
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, the longed for event during which Jesus would return to gather all the true Christians up to heaven and cast everyone else into hell. 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 stepfather 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 characteristic 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 (apparently lying isn't a sin when lying to non-believers) ... although she does get two years probation during which the family has a greater degree of stability than usual for which Ruth is grateful.
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 at a ridiculously young age to help with her younger half-siblings. While Ruth’s half- and step-siblings by other mothers are clean and at least moderately well dressed (perhaps their relatives in the United States send them money as 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 stepfather 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 stepdaughters 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 personal experience (I wasn't surprised) -- the adult women blamed the victims. It wasn't like they were his biological children. 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 not penetration), and they were just being spoiled brats about it. They should consider how much their stepfather 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 was 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"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
The author's background as a scholar and researcher are evident in the writing. She writes very well and name drops and quotes slew of literary works.The author's background as a scholar and researcher are evident in the writing. She writes very well and name drops and quotes slew of literary works. But her academic training has its downside in that she reads deep symbolic meaning into every little thing. Every single thing she encounters in her life has a deep meaning ascribed to it. This is not true in real life anymore than it is in literature. ...more
I was interested in reading this because I read a particularly stellar review. However, for me the book didn't live up to its glowing her. This memoirI was interested in reading this because I read a particularly stellar review. However, for me the book didn't live up to its glowing her. This memoir did have a few interesting points, and the illustrations were occasionally eye-catching.
Una defines her life against the attacks and murders committed by a serial killer in the region of England in which she was born and raised. And sadly, the milestone moments of her own life are acts of sexual violence committed against her first -- by a stranger and then by acquaintances -- and the bullying/slutshaming committed against her by her peer group. She uses this background to discuss sexual violence against women in general, which takes on a soapbox tone at times. This story is terribly sad but not very insightful.
One of my pet peeves with memoir is lack of perspective and self-awareness. At several points she complained that the psychologists to whom she was sent did not ask "the right questions." But she never articulates what the right questions would have been. She makes the claim that the signs of sexual trauma are easy to spot and then blames the lack of proper response on her family and other authority figures on their not being comfortable with discussing sexual abuse. While I don't doubt that she was behaving in an overtly disturbed matter, it is more plausible that the lack of response was because no one knew why she was acting so traumatized. She repeats over and over that she never told anyone about the incidents of abuse and that she kept everything secret. In fact, she is very cagey about what exactly occurred within the narrative. (view spoiler)[For example, her first incident of abuse occurred in a park, but the event is so glossed over that it is unclear whether the guy 1) just exposed himself to her or 2) assaulted her. Then at another point the reader is left to infer that her boyfriend either gang-raped her with some of his friends or raped her while his friends watched, but the only details she gives it that she shouldn't have gotten in the car, they must have planned this in advance, they told her that no one would believe her when they dumped her back out of the car, and she never said a word about what happened. I agree that the reader doesn't need to know explicit details, but some basic facts would have helped me understand what was happening. (hide spoiler)] If what happened is so unclear to the reader, how can she expect the adults in her life to know what happened to her. In hindsight, she should have been able to realize many or most of the adults around her were probably totally clueless about the source of suffering and acting out. And she never once mentions what response(s) she needed or hoped for or that would have helped. Again, lack of self-awareness, as an adult she should be able to articulate what could have been done to help her.
The ending is a copout, too. She is able to leave much of her past trauma beyond and find a measure of peace/happiness, but she dismisses that with "That's another story." The story still ends with the murder victims of the serial killer, so she hasn't really escaped, and their deaths still define her life. She notes that their is no memorial for them although this book is a form of memorial. The lamentation of lack of memorials for innocent victims of violence is common, but is it really plausible? If there were a memorial for everyone who suffered unjustly, every inch of planet would be covered with them, and there would be no room for the living human beings. ["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