The Leah Shadow
Harold K. Moon
Authorhouse , 2004. Quality Paperback:
Suggested retail price: $19.95 (US)
The "Leah" referred to in the title is the Leah of the Old Testament, thesame Leah married off to Jacob before he could be married to his belovedRachel. The "Shadow" is the continuing influence that first wives have onhusbands, children, and sister-wives in the Mormon polygamy story.
The tale opens with John Glendrake, a Mormon farmer in pre-Manifesto days,being urged by his bishop to take a second wife. John is reluctant; he'svery much in love with his wife, Catherine, and doesn't want to hurt her.When, however, he receives her permission to take a second wife, he marriesSheila, a women to whom he is very much attracted.
The two women develop a loving relationship, but Catherine realizes that,however much she tries, she cannot share her husband with another woman.She blames neither John nor Sheila, but rather herself, for her lack offaith, and her church, for making such a demand on its women.
When a federal marshal comes to town to prosecute the "cohabs," John feelshe has no choice but to flee to Mexico. He wants both wives to come withhim, but Catherine insists on staying in Utah, raising their children, andfreeing John to pursue his marriage with Sheila.
The author is the product of a polygamous background, and thus has somefamiliarity with the subject. There is much here to interest the reader --some good insights into the difficulties that accompanied the polygamylifestyle.
And here is where some of the tension really comes to the surface. Thereis little indication as to whether the author approves of the lifestyle.The conflict is enfleshed in the person of Catherine. She knows in herheart that this is wrong, that a man should have only one wife. But shealso believes that the Church's teaching is true, and must be obeyed. Shesublimates her own feelings and chooses the path of obedience.
I could sense no pro- or anti-polygamy agenda in this book. It reads verymuch like a family chronicle, detailing the lives of its protagonists,reporting as would an objective reporter observing the story, delving onlyrarely into the actors' inner thoughts about the practice.
One of the problems in this book is that I couldn't quite figure out inwhat direction it was headed. As a rule, a work of fiction will propel thereader from one setting to the next with a bit of intrigue, a plot twist,something to keep your interest. Instead, Moon relies on an ongoinginterest in the larger story to keep you reading. This is chancy stuff,and risks losing the attention of the reader.
I'm glad I read it all the way through. At the end, we discover theultimate aim of the story. And the ending is very satisfactory; it tiestogether disparate elements of the story and provides a framework, if onlyin retrospect, for the tale.
In short, this is one book I enjoyed less during the reading than I didwhen thinking back on the story. The intensity of the last 40 pages or sosupplies a timely and gripping ending to a rather ordinary tale, and makesthe reading of the book worthwhile.
Perhaps it was Moon's intention to present a story of a polygamous familyin terms of normalcy and familial love, rather than the sensationalistictomes that have come from the presses. Is there really such a thing as a"normal" polygamous family? Can there be real love between a man and twowomen, and can the women learn to love and accept each other? This is aside of the plural marriage story that is not often told.
This book will be of interest to those with a curiosity about the practiceof polygamy in early Mormonism. It will offer up a view of such familiesnot often presented in modern literature. And, in the end, it will satisfythe reader with a compelling denouement, a testament to the pioneer spirit.
Jeff Needle September 13, 2004
© 2004 Jeff Needle