Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Review: The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

From Goodreads:
Linda Wallheim is a devout Mormon, the mother of five boys and the wife of a bishop. But Linda is increasingly troubled by her church’s structure and secrecy, especially as a disturbing situation takes shape in her ward. One cold winter night, a young wife and mother named Carrie Helm disappears, leaving behind everything she owns. Carrie’s husband, Jared, claims his wife has always been unstable and that she has abandoned the family, but Linda doesn’t trust him. As Linda snoops in the Helm family’s circumstances, she becomes convinced that Jared has murdered his wife and painted himself as a wronged husband.

Linda’s husband asks her not to get involved in the unfolding family saga. But Linda has become obsessed with Carrie’s fate, and with the well-being of her vulnerable young daughter. She cannot let the matter rest until she finds out the truth. Is she wrong to go against her husband, the bishop, when her inner convictions are so strong?
The writing here is decent.  I wasn't super impressed with anything, but there also wasn't anything that jumped out as particularly bad writing either.  I'd say standard women's fiction writing.  My only issue with the quality was that I felt like the author was a bit undecided on her audience.  Is she writing for those who are familiar with Mormonism or to a more general audience?  She explains some of the less well-known facets of the faith, but leaves others unexplained.  There were times when she'd throw out a title like Relief Society or Primary Presidency with no explanation at all, which was confusing to me as a non-Mormon.  I could figure out much of it from context, but there were times when I was left wondering.

Entertainment Value
The plot moves quickly and kept my attention.  I cared about the outcomes for the characters and I wanted to get to the end and reveal the who-dunnit.  In that arena, the novel was completely successful.  I like women's fiction that deals with an of-the-moment issue and this certainly had plenty of those.  Basically every charge against the Mormon church is addressed here: racism, domestic violence, polygamy, women's roles in the church.  It's all there and I appreciated reading about it from a perspective that shows a fair amount of respect for the religion's traditions.

However, I was somewhat annoyed by the way men are depicted in the book.  We only meet one male character who isn't involved in incest, domestic abuse, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse, or a history of lies.  Every other man in the book is portrayed as a misogynist or liar, which I found to be less than believable.  While I didn't feel like the Mormon religion was mocked, I felt like the depiction of Mormon men as misogynists was a bit overdone.   It was nice that some of the more peculiar aspects of the faith weren't derided, but I felt like the implication was that Mormon men don't respect women, and I'm not sure that's entirely fair.

My other issue was our main character, Linda.  Linda is a busybody who cannot seem to mind her own business.  And while there are situations in which intervention is necessary, Linda's constant snooping really grated on my nerves.  And she makes some really horrible choices that are somewhat glorified in the book, but which would have serious consequences in reality that are vastly ignored.

It was good diversionary reading and it kept my interest.  I found the plot to be intriguing and, for the most part, enjoyed my read.  But I was annoyed by the main character and by the portrayal of men throughout the book and there were times when I wanted to step in and shake Linda.  This is solidly middle of the road for me - a decent diversion, but I doubt that I'll remember the plot or characters for more than a few weeks.

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