Christine Ward's Reviews > The 19th Wife

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
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's review
Sep 10, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: new-to-me
Read from September 10 to October 04, 2011

In "The 19th Wife", author David Ebershoff tells both a fictionalized account of Ann Eliza Young, Brigham Young's (in)famous 19th wife, and also a present-day murder mystery set in southern Utah amongst a fundamentalist offshoot of the Latter-Day Saints (LDS), or Mormons.

The fictionalized account of Ann Eliza Young is the backbone of this novel, and where Ebershoff's talent shines through effortlessly. I found these chapters to be completely engaging and written with an ear for 19th-century dialect and storytelling. If Ebershoff had devoted his time and energies to a full fictionalized account of Ann Eliza Young's life, I suspect my rating would be much higher.

The modern-day story - the murder mystery - is OK, but when compared to the Young account, much weaker. In trying to capture modern-day dialect, Ebershoff perhaps tries too hard, and the result is some occasionally cringe-worthy dialogue. The story is intriguing by itself - Ebershoff deserves points for developing a murder mystery in this setting - but by itself, a little thin and flat. It reads like an episode of "Dateline", but one that has been drawn out unnecessarily.

If I were to rank the two stories separately, I'd give the Young account 4 stars and the murder mystery 2 stars, hence my 3-star rating. The story I will take with me is the Young account - that, and the feeling that this book could have been much more.

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