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Red Water: A Novel Paperback – April 8, 2003

3.9 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1857, in a field in southern Utah, a party of Mormons and Native Americans slaughtered more than a hundred men, women and children who were traveling to California. Only one man was ever tried, and executed, for the horror that became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre John D. Lee. This well-told novel by Freeman (The Chinchilla Farm) presents Lee's story from the point of view of three of his 19 wives: Emma, his "English bride," who recognizes that the man she loves is made up of equal parts tenderness and savagery; Ann, a child-bride of 13, who is hardened and wise beyond her years; and Rachel, the faithful, older wife, who remains devoted to Lee even after his excommunication and eventual execution. Freeman's novel is well researched (drawing heavily upon the work of historian Juanita Brooks), and her nuanced, perceptive portrayal of Mormon life stands in stark contrast to other Mormon-themed fiction (particularly the recent novels of Brigham Bybee). The book's descriptions are memorable, evoking the bleak but stunning landscape of the region. The motif of the red scenery reflects the raw bloodiness of the massacre, a metaphor that is often brilliant but occasionally overdone ("The very atmosphere of this brute red world seemed impregnated with sorrow and evil, colored by all the innocent blood shed that day"). Rachel's deeply pious character is remote and slightly underdeveloped; her section is the shortest and the last. Overall, Freeman has crafted a novel that is historically faithful, character-driven and deeply poignant. 9-city author tour.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

Unlike most historical novels, this one, which opens with a man's execution, doesn't pander to contemporary values. The condemned is a charismatic Mormon leader who participated in the massacre of a hundred and twenty Gentile pioneers in 1857, and Freeman describes the crime through the reactions of three of his nineteen wives. Rachel, the eldest, remains dislikably faithful to his memory. Emma, however, comes to see her husband as self-serving, and his youngest wife, Ann, who married him at the age of thirteen, becomes Emma's unlikely emancipator. With Ann's story—that of a young woman living in the Utah wilderness with a profound sense of her own worth—the narrative soars. Readers may want to shrug off all that makes these devout women endure their existence of farmwork, housework, repeated pregnancies, jealousies, and little to call their own, but Freeman's novel makes astute points about the almost indistinguishable similarities between faith and love.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (April 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385720696
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385720694
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #342,284 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is great writing. I was completely taken in by just about everything about this book. I found the characters complex, the scenery beautiful, the language believable. The women were all interesting to me, and I didn't find anywhere that my interest lagged. I even found myself seeing John D. Lee as human for the first time, something even his memoirs were unable to accomplish. I don't know much about the theology or morality of the 19th century Mormon church, so I can't really say whether it was accurate in that regard or not, although I found it believable. I do, however, know a great deal about Mountain Meadows, having read just about everything published about it, including much of the apologist garbage that passes for history written by defenders. I can tell you that I found nothing she wrote about the massacre with which I disagreed, right down to "putting the saddle on the right horse." Brigham Young was directly responsible for ordering the massacre, and John D. Lee was just following orders, although that makes him no less a murderer in my eyes. It is no better defense here than it was at Nuremberg or Mai Lai.

I do confess a bias, however, although different from that of others. I first "met" Captain Alexander Fancher, leader of the Fancher party murdered at the meadows, as I was researching his brother, my great grandfather John Fancher. I found them and their families side by side in the 1850 census of San Diego, California. They had apparently come out together to try their hand at cattle raising and were headed for Tulare county in central California.
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Wow, I read a few of these reviews. Funny how whenever you write something that even touches the edge of religion, the zealots come out.
This is NOT a story about the Mountain Meadow Massacre, though the incident and its characters figure prominently. This is NOT a story about merits or evils of Mormonism, though most of the characters are mormon and deal with their beliefs. Instead Freeman forces us to look at how humans have to come to grips with the complexities of belief and the realities of harsh everyday life.
This is a story centered around a fictionalization of part of the life of John D Lee. Executed for his role in the massacre. But even more than that, it is centrally, a story about women, and how they love.
Emma, the devoted wife who was in love with Lee when he took her as his 8th (well 17th) wife. How she dealt with the love and desire for a man she could not possess for herself but who totally possessed her. How she was bound more to the land and the religion by the man than the other way around.
Ann, who at thirteen married Lee for complex reasons but in the end, was taken by his personality and her own curiosity, shall we say. But who was tormented more by the man whom she lost belief in and the religion she never believed in but was wary of. Lee's memory amd her mixed feelings for him dogged her life even when she had left. Moreso, maybe.
Rachel, who in the end, realized that she was devoted to Lee for what he could promise her in the next life. An eternity next to the sister she idolized and loved. But Rachel's devotion may appear more as love than the love of the others.
There was a certain fascination in this book for me. It is well done and I literally read it in two days almost straight through.
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By A Customer on May 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I have the privilege of having a long Mormon heritage. My family came west with Brigham Young and were among those sent to Arizona to settle. While this book is based on historical events and people, as Ms. Freeman points out, it is a work of fiction and should be read as such. It is beautifully written. It can invoke such strong emotions. It is not a book about the Mountain Meadows Massacre (undeniably a horrible incident that should never have happened or gone unpunished). It is a book about three very different women who were involved in a polygamous marriage to one of the most strong willed and charismatic men of the time. It is their stories of survive in a harsh place and in harsh times. Whether you agree with the doctrine of the Mormon church of the time is irrelevant. This is a wonderfully written book of three women who along with the other Morman women of the time changed the face of the west forever. This book is more than worth your time and effort to read. Just don't read it for history or a religion lesson
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a descendent of the first pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley, I am always curious about works that explore my roots. Although I am not a practicing Mormon, many of my hundreds of living relatives are. I'm sure this book presents one point of view among many, but I found it to be enlightening & informative. I read it in one long day and night. I found it both compelling in parts and ponderous in others. Interesting to me was that the ponderous parts dovetailed with the character's experience of their lives as more of the same, ponderous, and burdonsome. In this case, ponderous writing allowed me to more completely enter into their experience. This book is part of the history of "the church", but more of pioneer life in general. The is not Little House on the Prairie. This is the bare bones realities of living with next to nothing in very inhospitable climates. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the following topics: American history, American violence, incest in religious families, pioneer life, patriarchial families, etc. I appreciate the other reviewers comments and plan to do additional research on the Mountain Meadow massacre.
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