OK, I admit it: this tv show is my one and only reality-show weakness.* I have been absolutely fascinated by this peek into an actual functional polyg...moreOK, I admit it: this tv show is my one and only reality-show weakness.* I have been absolutely fascinated by this peek into an actual functional polygamous family, by how genuinely dedicated all the adults are to this lifestyle and how normal (if a bit naive) all the kids seem to be. Of course I assume that they put their best foot forward for a television audience, so when I saw this book I snapped it up, eager for more details about the lives of the Browns. Unfortunately, although there are more details, particularly about Kody's courting of each of his four wives, the book fell flat for me on a couple of counts.
First, each section is divided into four parts so that each wife -- Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn -- gets to give her perspective on it. (Kody, perhaps appropriately for the patriarch of the family, gets the introduction and the conclusion.) This division is beneficial in the first section, since it gives each wife the opportunity to tell the very personal story of her and Kody's courtship and marriage, and to lay out the expectations with which she entered into plural marriage. It doesn't work so well in the other sections. By splitting the other sections into four, there is no coherent narrative and instead of coming across as four women working to be a family, their differences and difficulties are highlighted. One of the things that all five of the adult Browns have stressed on the television show is that they are in four separate, individual marriages with different needs and personalities. However, all four of the wives have also said many times that they have, or want to have, or are actively working to have, strong relationships with each other and I think they missed a real opportunity here to walk the walk. I'm not suggesting that the rest of the book should have subsumed the different voices of Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn into a monolithic first person plural (we did this, we did that), but it could have been told chronologically with alternating paragraphs, or with parts of it told as "we" followed by individual reflections on it. In that way they would have been telling their story as sister wives, instead of as four women who happen to be married to the same man.
Second, which may be the fault of their editor or ghostwriter, the "voices" of each wife are barely distinguishable. In reality they're radically different people, as one can see on the show: Meri is organized and quiet (and always seems a little sad), Christine happy-go-lucky and more volatile, Janelle reserved and businesslike, Robyn sweet and hopeful. On the page, however, we can't see or hear them so we need something to bring them to life: dialog, action, expression, a unique voice. Alas, it's almost all tell ("I am this kind of person, she is that kind of person") and no show so it's hard to tell them apart. It's made even more difficult by the fact that all four of them discuss similar difficulties in adjusting (jealousy, misunderstanding, uncertainty about their place/role in the family, etc. This was disappointing, as I was looking forward to gaining a more in-depth knowledge of each of them.
So, if you enjoyed the show, this offers additional backstory, but it's clearly a tie-in and couldn't stand on its own merits. Despite these shortcomings I did enjoy the book. There's a bit more discussion of their religion in the book than in the show, and the stories of their courtship and marriage were nice to read. They're honest about the difficulties of plural marriage, and they don't hide the fact that there were and are times when they really struggled. After reading it my opinion hasn't changed: I admire these women and the interesting family they've forged. Meri, Janelle, Christine and Kody (it's too early to tell about Robyn) are clearly good parents with high expectations for their kids but enough love and confidence to let them make their own decisions. They're rational, reasonable people who have chosen an unusual lifestyle, but they've chosen it freely and with full knowledge of what it entails and a determination to make it work not only for themselves but for each other. I can only marvel that they've succeeded as well as they have.