This is going to be a tough review to write. I’ve been putting it off because while I want to remain respectful and open-minded about the life the Dargers have chosen, there were bits and pieces about this story that bothered and confused me. I decided to read this book based on Kathy’s review. I’m currently fascinated by anything that has to do with polygamy and how it works, and I’ve read several books about over the past few years. I chose to listen to this book on audio, and it was narrated by several different actors, including James Lurie, Eliza Foss, Kathleen McInerney and Karla Hedrick. I liked the use of multiple narrators to tell this story because it really helped the reader understand all the players, where they came from, and how they interacted as a family.
The Darger family are polygamists, but they don’t practice fundamental Mormonism. They instead are independents and don’t adhere to the full tenants of any religion. Joe, Alina, Vickie and Valerie all grew up in polygamous households where their fathers were solely responsible for their religious education. This is the case with the Darger clan as well. The Dargers believe they can only reach the third and highest level of heaven (called celestial heaven) by practicing plural marriage. They came together in a few nontraditional ways because Alina is a cousin to Val and Vickie, who are twins. Even the way Joe courted the girls was unconventional, as he chose to court the first two women at the same time, which drew considerable ire from other polygamists. Eventually they added a third wife, and Joe has stated they are not looking to add more wives to his family, but that isn’t set in stone. The women co-parent each other’s offspring and each takes their turn at working outside the home. They are modern, hip and open minded, but some of the characteristics of their family life bothered me.
First off, there is a tremendous amount of thinly veiled jealousy between all the women. This is easy for the narrators to gloss over with smooth and untroubled voices, but the fact that there are three adult women vying for one man’s attention is sure to produce many issues, jealousy being just one. It’s here that I must interject my opinion that jealousy is a healthy and normal human emotion when held in proportion. I simply can’t imagine having to share my husband with another woman, for any reason, and though the Dargers explain their beliefs and feelings on why they feel this is necessary, I had a hard time wrapping my head around it. It’s not healthy to try to stamp out your jealousy like a fire and subsume your natural feelings and instincts. The human drive for jealousy is biological and evolutionary. It exists for a reason, and despite what these women were doing or saying about it, there was a distinct feeling that they were not as removed from these feelings as they wished to be. A couple of them said it was a ongoing task to root out jealousy, and I honestly felt sorry for them.
Another reason that I felt sorry for some members of the family was because they were asked to make some seriously heavy sacrifices in order to live a polygamous lifestyle. When one of the wives was young, she was forced to quit attending high school so she could tend to the other young children in her family. The Darger children must pay a portion of their income for rent at a young age and are all tasked with contributing financially to their household, as well as doing many chores and watching the younger children. Some of the Darger’s children have rebelled and admit to being less enthralled with the lifestyle, but others hope to practice it one day themselves. The Dargers don’t force their children into the polygamous lifestyle and allow them to have their own beliefs, which I felt was honorable and encouraging. Joe and his wives even encourage the children to visit other places of worship and to study other religions so they can be aware of the choices they make. I was glad the parents of these children respected them enough not to force their beliefs on them and have to say the Dargers appear to be about as egalitarian as they could be living in a plural marriage.
There’s so much more to discuss in a book like this one, but I hope I’ve been able to impart the experience of this book without being judgmental. I think most of my discomfort had to do with the human side of this arrangement, and it’s obvious that what works for most of us doesn’t work for everyone. I can see that Joe, Alina, Vickie and Val are happy in their choice of relationship. But like every relationship, there are issues and problems that make day to day life a struggle. Though polygamy is certainly not for me, it was intriguing to get a deep and intimate look at what it might be like to live in a family such as this. A very enlightening read.