Sunday, January 11, 2015
reading lately: THE BISHOP'S WIFE by Mette Ivie Harrison
About the book:
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?
First, I had read and heard a lot about this book before I bought it, and the reviews are decidedly mixed. Several LDS readers have expressed the opinion that Harrison had an "agenda" with the book, and I definitely wanted to see for myself if that was true. Having finished the book, I really don't see it. An LDS reader would have to be hyper-sensitive to any perceived criticism to find an agenda in the book. Yes, Mormon characters behave badly, and yes, Mormon characters express unhappiness with church policies and culture. But that's just life, and I think Harrison did a good job of writing a cast of characters for whom their Mormon-ness is an all-encompassing characteristic. There are so many little Mormon details scattered throughout the book--mostly good and a few bad--because the main character is constantly thinking about her religion. To me, that just makes sense. I don't self-censor my inner thoughts, so why should I expect a fictional character to?
Additionally, I definitely disagree with critiques suggesting the book is "anti-man." I think it's very clear that the anti-male sentiments occasionally expressed by the main character's inner-thoughts are a reflection not on how she actually feels. She never treats the men in her life badly and she clearly loves her husband and sons. Most importantly, even when she becomes suspicious of various male neighbors, she can't help but also notice their good behavior and begin doubting her own negative opinions. My reading is that the anti-male comments tare Linda's irrational response to the fear and stress she feels when her neighbor disappears and her guilt over not noticing anything amiss in the Helm family before the disappearance. To me, it read more as a unique character study of a woman under psychological stress than anything misandrist.
With all that out of the way, here's my review.
I read the book in one sitting. Despite the summary, the book actually involves two different mysteries--one involving the disappearance of young mother Carrie Helm, the other involving the long-dead wife of Tobias Torstensen, a man currently suffering from end-stage heart failure. One hand hand, I liked the idea of a current mystery and one rooted in the past. However, I don't think the dual mysteries worked as well as I would have hoped. Without spoiling anything, I found one mystery far more compelling than the other, and the conclusion to one far more satisfying. If the book had focused on one or the other, I think it would have been a stronger read.
I liked the reading and I found the characters to be interesting and compelling. The book seems to be the first in a planned series, and I am particularly interested in finding out more about Linda's personal history (little details were hinted at, but not explored) and her sons (placing bets that one of the five sons is gay, but not the one that Linda suspects). Overall, I would recommend it to mystery lovers.