Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Chosen One

Talk about a thrilling scenario. The one Carol Lynch Williams has carved out for this novel's protagonist is a very compelling one.

Kyra, the novel's first-person narrator, is a girl growing up in a polygamist community in contemporary America. Presumably, she lives someplace near or on the Arizona/Utah border. Hence, the landscape is stark and barren and unusually hot, as it seems are the hearts and minds of those who control the religious lives of the polygamous people who live there. This is a story that explores the implications of faith at the extremes of blind obedience and the use of ostracization of community as a tool in implementing such extremes in obedience.

Lynch throws this delicate, young girl, Kyra, who is just thirteen-years-old and who takes risks to be able to read books, directly into a boiling pot of incredible religious expectation and conflict for her and her family.

After all this time since reading it, I can still see Kyra --- because of Carol Lynch Williams's incredible ability as a writer --- sitting in the branches of a tall tree in that barren landscape reading, reading and gathering information about the wider world, reading and finding in the stories she read inspiration to resist evil designs of power-hungry, delusional men that were ruining people's lives in the community where she lived and who wanted to ruin Kyra's and their families' lives, too.

I can't believe I hadn't added this novel to my list of books read on Goodreads. I read it some time ago, although I don't remember exactly when now. I read it before I went to listen to Carol Lynch Williams speak at the League of Utah Writers Roundup writing conference last fall. I had intended to do a review of it back then. However, completing it escaped me, even though the story and Lynch's incredible writing has not.

I grew up in Utah and have been exposed to the culture there throughout my lifetime, even during periods of absence from there. The history of polygamy permeates the entire history and culture of Mormon people whether they live there or not, even though polygamy is not widely practiced anymore among Mormons, and even though it is now viewed widely by the hierarchy of the mainstream Mormon church as almost a forbidden topic.

Many years ago, after returning to Utah after living in the Midwest, on the West Coast, and in Idaho, my wife and I encountered a friend of ours. He told us that his wife --- who is related to my wife --- was leaving him for an older polygamist. That meant that this friend's children would be ripped from a monogamous marriage and exposed to the polygamous culture and its extreme religious views.

It was heart-wrenching for me to realize my friend would lose his family, and not just lose them in the regular, everyday divorce-and-move-on scenario that is so commonplace. But he would lose them also to a culture of closemindedness and blind obedience. I began writing my own story relative to the expectations of polygamy and the whole dynamic of its intrusion into regular lives and the expectations of its blind obedience. Polygamy always posed in my mind unseemly expectations, perpetrated by men who, it seemed to me, were operating with ulterior and evil motivations rather than the motivations they suggested came from God. Things haven't changed in that regard for me.

Some of my highlights from reading the book:

"I am warmed to the teeth at my father's smile. My good father. I REMEMBER sitting on my father's lap."

"That's all I'm not allowed to read anything but the Bible."

"... that everyone in the world is wrong, and just The Chosen Ones are right... there are so few of us and billions of them."

"We don't speak of that," Mother says. Her face turns pink. "That is sacred. Never meant for anyone but a husband and his wife."

"Satan is in what we read, if we read anything the scriptures."

"Prophet Childs moves into the trailer, taking up all the good air. I actually wince, then moved behind Father."

"At last I can breathe the air that isn't coming between clenched teeth."

"We walk toward the light in the house and the girl."

All I can say is that Kyra found release from her dire situation in her disobedience to those generally accepted as authority figures in her culture and environment. Sometimes it is more righteous to be disobedient than obedient. Sometimes it is more important to act than to be acted upon.

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