Robert Beveridge's Reviews > Heaven's Harlots: My Fifteen Years as a Sacred Prostitute in the Children of God Cult

Heaven's Harlots by Miriam Williams
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Jul 13, 11

bookshelves: 2010-goal-list, cuy-co-pub-lib, favorites
Read from June 04 to July 03, 2011, read count: 1

Miriam Williams, Heaven's Harlots: My Fifteen Years As A Sacred Prostitute in the Children of God Cult (Eagle Brook, 1998)

I started thinking about memoirs using the term “AFM” a few years ago, when it became obvious that the memoir fad was not going to die down any time soon. Every once in a while, one sneaks its way onto my reading list, I've no idea how, and I end up reading a memoir. Now, understand: I loathe memoirs. I especially loathe memoirs by people who aren't actually famous enough, or who have done anything important enough, to have occasioned the actual writing of a memoir, were it a century previous. (Of course, back then, one wouldn't actually become famous without doing something important enough to etc., unless one were a Royal, but that is another rant entirely.) They are, in general, overblown, overboring, self-serving, and just this side of unreadable. And so I've drawn a line in the sand. There's one more memoir that's snuck its way onto my reading list already, and I think it snuck there back in 2008 (my reading lists tend to span a large number of years). I'll read that one, because it's grandfathered in, but after that? No more memoirs. None. Why? Because so many of them are like this.

I try to pull something positive out of every book I read, and in this case, I ended up meditating on the murky difference between autobiography and memoir, something a lot of people, including bookstore owners, have long since given up trying. After thinking about it in terms of this book, with the other memoirs I've read as much in my mind as possible (I've blocked most of them, with very good reason), I came up with an hypothesis: the autobiography is supposed to be more fact-based, straight nonfiction, and because of this the show-don't-tell rule is not supposed to apply. The memoir, on the other hand, is that odd beast we're now calling “creative nonfiction”, as paradoxically absurd a term as that is, and it's supposed to be less straight nonfiction than docudrama. One would then think that show-don't-tell, even in the circle who believe that nonsense I wrote about the first half of this equation, would apply. Logical, right? Well, Heaven's Harlots, which got me thinking about this because it's such an incompetent mashup of the two, was not written by someone who took that idea to heart, or was written by someone who was trying for autobiography and failed miserably. (Here's a rule of thumb: if it contains dialogue from the seventies that doesn't come from, say, court transcripts or the Nixon tapes, unless the author has an eidetic memory, it's a memoir.) If you inferred from that that I'm not going to say anything else about this book that's even remotely positive, you're right on the money.

There's an amusing comment to an existing Amazon review (the only critical review of the book on the site as I write this) that complains that the reviewer seemed to be reviewing Miriam Williams' life, not her book. I have no idea what the commenter was trying to say, given that when you're reviewing a memoir, in essence, you are reviewing the author's life, at least the author's life as the author has chosen to present it to the reader. Forgive me for getting meta on you, but let's face it: the people who write memoirs are not expecting you to pick up their books because they made all the right choices. And so maybe it's kind of fitting that Williams, whose catalog of choices in this book is a paradox in itself (it often seems like she's making the right choices, but for the most deeply, deeply wrong of reasons in each case), presents her life to us in such a muddleheaded way. I've already mentioned that Williams takes a tell-don't-show approach here, which is especially confusing given that she seems to want to aim for the dramatic effect a number of times. The language she chooses to use in most of these scenes undercuts her every time. It does feel appropriate, if still boring, towards the end of the book, when she's making an attempt, however surface it may be, to understand the psyche of the average Children of God cult member (in order to understand herself, not said but strongly implied), but when she's talking about being separated from her child? If you want to form an emotional connection with the reader, there's really no valid choice there but packing in as much emotionally-laden description as possible. A dry recitation of facts is not going to get the job done. Unfortunately, that's much of what we get here, and it helps even less that many of the more outrageous claims against the Children of God cult are addressed here by hearsay at best. Not the best approach when that's what you're using to sell the book. You're going to come away with a lot of disappointed readers. I'm not one of them in this regard; I knew nothing at all about the cult when I originally added this book to my reading list way back when. But then, the book's so ineffectively-written that there wasn't much disappointment to be had about anything else.

I'm not entirely sure why I plugged on with it, to tell you the truth. This would have been a prime candidate for abandoning to the dustbunnies after page fifty, but I ended up reading the whole thing. It doesn't get any better. Possibly worth reading if you're interested in the Children of God and there's no other source material out there about them (I haven't checked), but otherwise forget it.

Oh, and the term AFM? It stands, of course, for “another f***ing memoir”, said with a tone of aggravation that varies depending on how bad the book is. This one was pretty high on the scale. *
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message 1: by Talyn (new)

Talyn So...... Why didn't you like it again?

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