By Natalie R. Collins
New York, St. Martins Press, 2004
Reviewed by Richard Packham
Not often do I read a book in one sitting. But already on page six of Natalie Collins' Wives and Sisters I knew I would not go to bed until I had read the whole thing.
Wives and Sisters is fiction in only one sense: the actual names of the characters are invented.
In every other sense, this "novel" is a devastatingly accurate journalistic report of the effect that Mormonism often has on the lives of those who live it, who leave it, and who are its victims.
Every Mormon, every former Mormon, and everyone who has lived among the Mormons in Utah or in the other areas of the West where Mormonism has dominated the local culture, will recognize almost every character in this book - the authoritative father, the submissive wife, the abused children, the "good ol' boy" nature of the Mormon hierarchy, the young adult who is trying to escape a Mormon past and live a normal life. And just as familiar will be the depictions of everyday life in Mormonism. All the secrets that are generally covered up by Mormons - who are generally thought by non-Mormons to be "those nice people up the block with the nice big family and such wonderful family values" - are here portrayed in all their sad reality: the sexual frustration and abuse, the cover-ups, the self-justifications, the quiet desperation, the wide-spread depression, the blind obedience to church authority, the devastation of so many individual lives in the name of religion.
Unfortunately, the Mormon church has so far been fairly successful in covering up the rampant sexual abuse of its children. This book may call Mormonism to account before an outraged public, just as the Roman Catholic church has had to admit its complicity in the devastation of so many devout Catholic children.
But there is more here: Collins also gives the reader romance, mystery, crime-solving, and even humor (the baptismal scene is unforgettable!).
I hope this book is made into a movie. (It will probably be banned in Utah!)