The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff

This is the second of David Ebershoff’s books I’ve read, and it is a classic example of why a reader shouldn’t give up on an author. For as much as I disliked The Danish Girl, I loved The 19th Wife. And I really did love this book a lot.

What changed? This time out, Ebershoff gave us a pair of compelling protagonists, for starters. The 19th Wife weaves a fictitious version of the true story of Ann Eliza Young — estranged wife of early Mormon prophet Brigham Young — with that of the wholly fictitious Jordon Scott, a young man tossed out of a 21st century polygamist cult in southern Utah. The entire story, which includes a few ancillary narrators, is interesting, but Jordan is the kind of endearing narrator you want to follow, just to make sure he’s going to be okay.

Jordan is tottering on the edge of stability — it’s in sight but not assured — when he learns that his mother, BeckyLyn, has been arrested and charged with the murder of his father. Although BeckyLyn followed the orders of the cult’s prophet and abandoned him on a highway when he was only 14, Jordan doesn’t believe her capable of murder. So he decides to find out what actually did happen, which means re-entering the world of the cult and grappling with the emotions he’s tamped down for the past 6 years.

But this is not a murder mystery. It’s not a coming of age novel. It’s not a historical novel. It’s not a book about LDS. It has elements of all of those, and I’d say it’s mostly about people finding themselves and discovering where they are most comfortable fitting into the world. But it’s more than that. It’s also about love and honesty and integrity and truth, with some greed and hypocrisy tossed in for contrast.

This is a long book because Ebershoff is inventive and has a lot to say. I think it’s brilliant, I was very happy when I was reading it, and I’ll recommend it to anyone and everyone. But I won’t try to wedge it into a category, because that would be wrong. Just read the damned book, okay? I say that despite a few quibbbles about the ease with which Jordan visits his former home. The book is excellent. Highest recommendation and all that.

As for animals, yes, there is a dog, and no, she does not die. Her name is Elektra, and she makes it all the way through the book without any problems. Ebershoff writes Elektra as a real animal character — she’s a dog, not a furry, wise human, and she behaves like a dog. Yet she doesn’t slink into the background and conveniently disappear, either. She needs water, food, affection, opportunities to pee, and interaction with others. Jordan has to find people to watch her when he can’t take her along on his adventures, and he’s careful not to leave her in a hot vehicle. We learn a lot about Jordan through Elektra, but she’s a multi-dimensional character all on her own. Ebershoff thought this through much more than most authors do.

That’s not to say there aren’t a few unpleasant animal images. But they’re very brief and mostly have to do with the Mormon history portion of the story. Another dog, Joey, eventually enters the story, and Ebershoff gives him the same treatment as Elektra. So this book is completely SAFE for animal lovers. Now, go get your hands on a copy and read it!


August 26, 2010 - Posted by | animals, beach book, Book Reviews, dogs, historical fiction | , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I’m about 90 pages in to the 19th Wife and so far find it brilliant.
    But I have to say, your review is wonderful, mainly because after reading the opening pages I needed to know if Elektra was going to meet a gruesome end.
    So although I’m not reading on your recommendation, I am continuing because of your review.

    Comment by Mary Cross | January 10, 2013 | Reply

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