Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Love Times Three: Our True Story of a Polygamous Marriage by Joe, Alina, Vickie and Valerie Darger and Brooke Adams — 304 pgs

This is the very unusual story of a modern polygamous family living in Utah and the struggles and joys they face, not only in their day-to-day lives, but in the greater social and legal arena. Joe Darger has always believed that to attain spiritual completeness, he needs to fully live out his life in a polygamous marriage. When he courts both Alina and Vicki at the same time, he’s not only judged by the outsiders of the faith but by his close group of polygamous friends and family as well. But Joe, Alina and Vickie were committed to living this lifestyle and were in love, and worked hard to integrate themselves into this highly unusual family structure. As Joe, Alina and Vickie have children and solidify their family, they encountered many obstacles and many rewards. Later, they were joined by Valerie, who had been severely mistreated in her previous polygamous marriage and who had a harder time adjusting to her new situation and the demands it placed on her. As Joe, Alina, Vickie and Valerie take turns explaining the ins and outs of their marriage, a picture of the complex and intricate life they lead begins to emerge. Though there have been trials and tribulations in this plural marriage, the four adults and twenty-six children that live in this relationship have found they wouldn’t want it any other way. As the Dargers share their story, they highlight the dangers that face by living this lifestyle and the prejudices and ignorance that bombard them in a society that doesn’t understand their way of life or their beliefs. Both engrossing and highly personal, this look into the lives of a family living a plural marriage will educate some and inflame others, but ultimately it will shed light on a subject that fascinates and mystifies so many.

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.

22 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Very well done review because I personally do not think I could review it so objectively!

Jenny said...

You should see the nose-wrinkly judgey face I'm making right now. I know I should be open-minded, and in theory I am, but in practice it seems like polygamy never works out well for people. Not being able to finish high school because there are kids to be minded is crap. :(

Beth F said...

Fascinating. I remember Kathy's review and being intrigued. I don't quite understand why a woman would choose this lifestyle, although I have no moral or ethical objections to someone choosing to live in a plural marriage. Not what I would want, though.

Wall-to-wall books said...

Hmmmm, well I certainly do not agree with the life style but...
I am a very "Live and let Live" person. So I believe it is their choice.
I have read books about this subject before and they were very good. I have not seen this one before though.
Good review!

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

You did a great job reviewing this one. I'm not sure I could review it so objectively. I think this one would be an interesting read but very difficult to review.

reviewsbylola said...

I'm with you--I can't imagine sharing my husband with anyone. That is one of the many reasons polygamy has fascinated me. I have had my eye on this book.

Harvee said...

It's amazing what sacrifices people, particularly women, are willing to make to follow their personal beliefs. An honest and thoughtful review.

Jenners said...

You did a great job with what must have been a hard reivew to write. I too find this whole polygamy thing fascinating, and I'm glad to hear that they are open-minded for their children. But still … 26 kids is a lot even with four parents!!

Jenny said...

I've seen them now on Dr. Phil (I think) and on 20/20.. they seem like nice people, and it's good they aren't forcing their lifestyle on the children (well for them in the future). But wow, that jealousy thing.. you're right that it's not healthy. I can't imagine what that must be like for them or why they would subject themselves to it. They did mention on 20/20 how very difficult it is for them if they ever imagine their husband being with the others, which he obviously is frequently!

softdrink said...

Interesting that we're both posting about books about polygamy! It's seems to be a hot topic for authors right now (although under the Banner of Heaven was written in the 90s...Krakauer was ahead of his time :-)). I think you'll like Under the Banner of Heaven. It's a much more critical look at polygamy and fundamentalism, and really shows how polygamy is NOT in the best interests of women.

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

I tend to stay away from books like this, because I'm completely unable to examine them objectively. I'm impressed by how you managed to separate your personal opinions from the book, and view it with a critical eye. I would probably have babbled about how polygamy is unfair to women, etc. Great review as always. :)

bermudaonion said...

I don't agree with the lifestyle the Dargers have chosen, but I enjoyed the book because it helped me to understand why they chose it. I still don't totally understand their choice, but I think this book made me understand it a little bit more. I think the fact that they were raised in the lifestyle makes it feel normal to them. I'm fascinated with polygamy - and struggle to understand why a woman would subject herself to such a lifestyle.

I have to say that after listening to this book, I got the idea that the state of Utah is filled with polygamist - did you get that feeling too?

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

The perfectly normal emotion of jealousy to me is the red flag that this arrangement is demeaning to women. The women are the only ones who have to squash their jealousy...the women are the ones vying for the attentions of one man..On a business trip a year or so ago, I saw an episode of Big Love...while intrigued, I reached a point where I too felt sorry for these women..."normal" or not, when your husband is with another woman, there's no way that doesn't bother you...I don't know if I should read this one simply bc I'm afraid I might not be able to write a non-judgemental review (even my comments are judgemental :( I would like to know more about the lifestyle (as Kathy said)...maybe I'll check this one out at the library...

TheBookGirl said...

Like you, the subject of polygamy fascinates me, why I don't really know...I watch Sister Wives, much to my husband's puzzlement.

I'm curious to know more about what they believe, religiously, given your comments that they are not fundamentalist Mormons, and adhere to no singular faith.

I just find it so hard to believe that this kind of arrangement can really be a happy one for all parties involved. But, to each his own I say.

Aarti said...

Wow. I wonder why, if you don't follow the tenets of a particular religion, you would feel the only way to reach a higher religious level would be through polygamy. That is strange to me.

I know you are super-interested in polygamy recently- do you think this book was in line with what you've read before? It seems like a non-traditional polygamous family to me.

Stacy at A Novel Source said...

I have to agree with Jenny's comment! How is that aspect about it even legal - having to work to "support" the younger kids the adults can't quit having....I guess they don't believe in birth control either?

Geosi said...

Interesting review. You managed to deal with various aspects of the book. Thanks as always.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Wow - like Rhapsody, I wouldn't be able to be as impartial as you were in this review ... kudos for maintaining your objectivity!

I'm fascinated by the subject of polygamy [that is, I have an interest in learning WHY people choose it; not interested in experimenting myself!], but don't have patience with the Dargers - they've put their own desires above the needs of their children.

Kailana said...

I read this book a few months ago and still haven't reviewed it. I really must get around to it!

nomadreader said...

Excellent review! I'm fascinated by polygamy too, but I too find myself becoming dismissive of it sometimes. I'm intrigued by having different narrators in the audio book. I don't listen to much audio, but non-fiction tends to work pretty well for me. I'm intrigued by this one.

Amy said...

I'm glad they didn't hide the jealousy and that they allow their kids that kind of religious freedom. While I can't imagine myself in such a relationship, it is interesting to read about why people make the choices they do isn't it?

Avid Reader said...

Did we read the same book? I thought this was a well-written honest look at polygamy.

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