A fictional tale of Mormons and polygamy: Review of the Sister Wife series by Allison Pittman

If “Mormons” and “polygamy” in the title of this post didn’t scare you away, then I’d like to introduce you to two novels I recently read by a new-to-me author, For Time & Eternity and Forsaking All Others by Allison Pittman.

First, though, a couple of things:

1. Mormonism is a current events topic these days with a presidential nominee who is Mormon. Not only is it current, it’s controversial. And although these books are fiction, they are based in historical fact. To some, they will be controversial.

2. The author grew up in Utah and her husband is an excommunicated Mormon. Form your own opinion about whether that makes her more or less credible as a writer.

3. I’ve never seen the TLC reality show Sister Wives. If you have, please feel free to weigh in.

The story of Camilla Deardon Fox begins in For Time & Eternity when she’s living in Iowa near an encampment of Mormons who are heading west, to Utah. Camilla hears them singing and is drawn to them although her parents have warned her to stay away. She meets Nathan Fox, a Mormon, on the way to school one day and is captivated by him. When she meets other members of the group, she is enlivened by their faith, something that hasn’t happened in all her 15 years of church attendance and nightly Bible reading. She defies her parents to join the group on their journey west, marrying Nathan along the way.

For Time & Eternity is a page turner as Camilla adjusts to married life and life in Utah among other Mormon believers. I can’t recall any other novels I’ve read where Mormonism plays a prominent role. The author’s personal experiences and research bring new light and understanding to the teachings of that institution. The book ends on a cliffhanger, and I’m glad I had checked out both books at the same time or else I would have gone mad. (Not really. But I hate having to wait for a sequel if I know it’s already available. Our library system is good, but I still have to wait days, sometimes even weeks for the books I want to read. [Heavy drama and sarcasm.])

Here’s a good place to jump ship if you haven’t read either book and don’t want to know anything of what happens in the second one.

Forsaking All Others picks up where the first one left off. I had high hopes for the sequel given the dramatic ending. And while the book held potential, I really thought the first one was better. In this one, Camilla has left her family and her church and is in the care of a colonel in the U.S. Army. Forsaking All Others is the story of Camilla clinging to the truth of Scripture and the love of Jesus while breaking free from her relationship with and love for her husband. The action is slower in this novel, and frankly, I expected more from the conclusion. Sort of anti-climatic.

That said, I think these are worthwhile reads simply for the subject matter. And for me, they’re provoking more interest in what Mormons believe. Not because I want to be one but because I want to understand. They’re also a fascinating part of U.S. history. I’d like to learn more.

FAVORITES: Pittman seems to capture the time period, mid-1800s, with historical realism. She is a talented wordsmith who makes settings and actions come alive. I like Camilla, and I could identify with some of her struggles.

FAULTS: The second book was less satisfying than the first. I’d hope for more to develop with the colonel or for some final obstacle. Really, it just sort of ended. I was let down a little. I was also confused because the author “quotes” from a Ladies Home Journal article written by the main character. I thought maybe she was writing about a real woman from history. She is a completely fictional character, which also was a little disappointing.

IN A WORD: Fascinating. What I knew about Mormons before reading this book was conjecture, at best. I know this isn’t a history book, but I trust authors to do their research. I like learning new things, and I appreciate when I can do that even with fiction.

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