kingshearte's Reviews > Keep Sweet: Children of Polygamy

Keep Sweet by Debbie Palmer
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Sep 05, 11

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bookshelves: 2011, non-fiction
Read from August 25 to 31, 2011

This book tells the story of Debbie Palmer's first 18 years, which she spent inside the polygamist group in what is now Bountiful, BC.

It's hard to really know what to say about this book. Mostly, it just remains mind-boggling to me that people can believe stuff like this, and think it's a good idea, and healthy for their kids, etc.

Don't get me wrong. Polygamy/polyamory as a concept doesn't really bother me. If, as a consenting adult, one chooses to commit to multiple people, I don't have a problem with it. And from a biological standpoint, polygamy as practiced in these religious societies does make sense. For the same reason that you keep a stable full of brood mares and only one stud horse, having one husband for several wives (including those significantly younger than him) does make sense, assuming you subscribe the the theory that the idea is to produce as many offspring as possible. Furthermore, unlike, say Catholic women, who are also generally expected to produce as many children as nature provides, plural wives at least (in theory) get to have these other women to help rear their children (and take care of the household). And hey, if you have a headache one night, someone else can do the honours.

However, for me, the acceptability of all this is predicated on all involved parties being in a position to offer informed consent to this arrangement, and that's not the case in this kind of situation. For one thing, the ages are a problem. While I do think that North American society babies its teens to an excessive degree, that doesn't mean we should all be fully responsible for babies, households and husbands as soon as we're biologically able to produce children. Nor do I think that people who have been raised to absolute submission to the will of the men around them can be said to be in a position to offer proper informed consent.

Yes, there is cultural bias at work here. While I might say that these people have been indoctrinated to believe these things, they might suggest that I've been raised and indoctrinated to believe other things. And they're not wrong. Maybe they're right, and this lifestyle is the key to eternal salvation and the one to which I subscribe will lead to eternal damnation. But as neither of us will know for certain until we die (assuming we know anything at all beyond that point), all I can really go on is that cultural bias with which I've been raised, and it says that self-determination is a healthier way to live than to exist entirely under someone else's control.

So there's that. And I have many other thoughts (Of course you have nothing to talk about with your husband. He's old enough to be your grandfather, and much as I love my grandfather, I've never really had any really in-depth conversations with him. We live in different worlds, and don't have vast amounts of things in common. Or, in addition to the considerable data showing that abstinence education increases pregnancy and STIs, this book seems like anecdotal evidence at least that no sexual education whatsoever provides an excellent environment for your kids to be sexually abused and not even really know it. Or that I can't even imagine trying to function in the dynamics of a group of wives who should theoretically be more or less equal, but who range so hugely in age that there's going to be a clear pecking order — and that's not even counting the kids. How do you exert authority over a "daughter" who's old enough to be your mother?), the one that comes back to me so often when dealing with religious (specifically Christian) groups is that so few of them seem to really have any understanding of what they've espoused. I simply do not understand how anyone can read the Bible, read about Jesus, claim to be any sort of follower of his, and continue to treat other people the way they do. And at the end of the day, that's really what struck me most about this group of people. The absolute male authority and dominance is one thing, but the appalling way the women treat each other is, well, appalling. But don't think of complaining, because if you could just follow the prophets and have enough faith, you wouldn't have these problems. It's awful. Even more awful when it's children who are the targets of the terrible treatment. Admittedly, this is only one side of the story, and Jan might have a different perspective, but it's hard to imagine any actual justification for not only hitting a kid, but punching her in the head repeatedly until she's curled up in a ball on the ground, and then kicking her repeatedly. With the possible exception of an actual demon child, there is no justification for that, ever. And there is even less justification for trying to convince the kid that she's the one who's really responsible for this. I just can't even.

So yeah. I would be interested in reading about how she actually managed to get out with all her kids, but other women have told their versions of that story. Palmer chose to focus on this lifestyle's effects on children, and that is a fascinating perspective. I am truly sorry that she and others have had to go through this, and I would like to believe that not all polygamist groups are like this, but I know that enough of them are that this will certainly continue to be a problem for some time. I'm glad for her and for everyone else who has managed to extricate themselves, and I wish them all the best in the rest of their lives.
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message 1: by Gabi (new)

Gabi Sutton "Polygamy/polyamory as a concept doesn't really bother me. If, as a consenting adult, one chooses to commit to multiple people, I don't have a problem with it"
question: how can one truly be a "consenting adult" if one has been told since they were able to understand words, that the only alternative to plural marriage is eternity in hell?


kingshearte One cannot, in my opinion, as I mentioned a little further down. The context in which I'm OK with it is a non-religious one, where adults who have not been told any such thing (and in fact have probably been told that one-to-one for all eternity is the gold standard) choose to pursue that style of commitment — and where it isn't necessarily a given that it will be one dude with multiple women.


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