Mar 7, 2011


by Carolyn Jessop

Found this one at a book sale -almost two years ago- and remembered having seen reviews of it around the book blogs. Picked it up out of curiosity but never read it until now. Although the writing isn't great, sometimes repetitive and dull, the story itself is captivating in a kind of horrific way, and I could not put it down for a few days.

Jessop grew up in a radically fundamentalist sect of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints (FLDS) right before the now-famed Warren Jeffs came to be its leader. At eighteen years of age she was forced to marry a fifty-year-old man who was a complete stranger to her and already had four wives. Over the years he married many more women, the crowded house they lived in had some twenty young children at once! Jessop herself had eight children by this man she did not love. Her story is one of continual fear, living in a family full of tension, mistrust and physical abuse. I would expect that a family with so many women vying for the husband's attention would have plenty of back-stabbing and rivalry, but what I did not expect was how constantly the wives were hurting each other instead of giving support, how the children were used as manipulative tools against their own mothers, how often the kids were neglected. Her husband treated her abysmally- even denying her medical care (she says a lot of people in the community believed that illness was a punishment from God and only prayer/repentance would resolve it). It was also very disturbing to read of the religious beliefs that taught these women they had no choice other than to be completely subservient to men who were often cruel to them. So many of the stories about the early church history and doctrines echoed what I learned myself as a child in the LDS church- but interpreted in a completely different fashion, twisted almost beyond recognition. It was really disturbing. When leadership of the secluded community Jessop lived in began to shift, the rules became more and more constrictive, and eventually she saw the need to leave in order to keep herself and her children safe. Unlike most women in the community she had some education and this made it easier for her to adjust to living in the outside world, but it was still a struggle and of course her husband came after her. Their legal battle over the children was told very briefly at the end (which is probably a good thing; I find descriptions of court scenes tedious).

The uplifting part of the book is seeing how she finally freed herself from living in such oppression and managed to make a new life for herself. It was difficult for her children, though- they believed their mother was putting them in an evil environment and were still continually manipulated when visiting their father. Her oldest daughter even returned to the cult when she turned eighteen- I wonder what it was like for her when she went back. Reading Escape was rather painful (if riveting)- I don't like to think of people suffering so- and I'm not sure I want to read any more stories of polygamy. I know there are a lot out there, one even written by women from the same community Jessop was part of. I'm curious to see how the stories of other women compare to hers, but not sure if I want the distress of reading about their experiences.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 413 pages, 2007

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bermudaonion said...

I'm fascinated by polygamy books. I just think the women who escape show great strength. It must have broken her heart to have her daughter return to that environment.

Jenny said...

Oh God, how awful. I can't even imagine living like that, and it sounds like it would be difficult to read about too. Particularly the thing of using kids to manipulate the grown-ups. Horrible.

Shannon... said...

I got this book for the library as a audio book (one of the 2-3 I've ever "read"). I really enjoyed it. I was floored by her strength and force of not only survive, but to get free.