Janet's Reviews > The Latter Days: A Memoir

The Latter Days by Judith Freeman
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it was amazing

Publication day today!!
I finished this memoir by novelist Judith Freeman two days ago, and I'm trying to put my finger on why the story of a young girl's coming of age in a Mormon household in Utah during the Fifties and Sixties--a girl who just happens to have become one of our most prominent writers--has so captivated me.

Even more than the story itself, fascinating on its own merits, it was the elegant style of its storytelling, the cool, unexpectedly sophisticated tone. Unlike many a memoir of growing up in a constricting, sometimes dangerous environment, Freeman lets the evidence stand for itself. There's no hyperventilating-- did you see how bad this was? Do you see how nuts this is? Can you believe? Can you imagine?

The events--the dynamics of the huge insulated family, the father's dangerous moods, the religious practices and demands--are presented as they occurred to a girl who accepted this all as normal, and why wouldn't she? Everyone she knew was part of it.

Yet her own feelings tell her--and us--it was hardly normal. I loved that even as child, the author never overrode her own feelings--something that must have been tempting to do, to avoid the painful contradictions. And the power of those feelings slowly, naturally, began to separate her from the grip of family and religion.

Freeman's feeling for the West is exquisite. I loved her childhood on horse back, riding in the hills with her friends, her comfort in nature. We learn what it is to come from a long line of rock-jawed Mormons who pioneered for their religion, the feeling of that kind of connection with the land. Having written about Mormonism not always flatteringly in novels such as The Chinchilla Farm and Red Water--the story of a shocking episode of early Mormon history told from the points of view of four wives of Brigham Young cohort John D. Lee--I was impressed by her even-handedness in her memoir. We're given a picture of a time and a place, and of life within an all-encompassing faith--in its positive aspects as well as its strangeness.

Freeman's memoir presents both sides of such a religion: the solidarity and beauty of religious community, mutual aid, fraternal affection, association with the transcendent; but also the frustration, violence, the demands upon time that could be employed in so many other ways, and most of all, its creepy patriarchy, the virtual blackmail that male elders use to gain power of the pubescent Judith, shaming her for her sexuality and attractiveness to them, which eventually leads her to marriage at 17.

The book opens and closes on a scene of the young woman at 22, already with a baby, a soon to be divorcee working at a Mormon department store and living with her parents. She craves a certain expensive red pot, and eventually she steals the pot. At the start, we have a certain view of this poor girl--pity for her frustration, how trapped and without resources she is. But by the end, we've gained respect for her. We understand her potential and her inner resources, what she has already been through, and we know she will not molder behind that counter forever.

There are big revelations here, as the contemporary Freeman uncovers the deceits and treachery within her good Mormon family, especially toward family members who failed to conform to some ideal--including herself.

A compelling story, compulsively readable, and its authorial voice--calm, keen-eyed, gracious but only to a point--still rings inside me. An unusually elegant memoir of a young girl's unique coming of age.

Pub date June 7, 2016
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Reading Progress

April 27, 2016 – Started Reading
April 27, 2016 – Shelved
June 8, 2016 – Finished Reading

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