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Red Water: A Novel Paperback – April 8, 2003
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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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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. The characters are real and their interactions, relationships and differences are real too. Even down to the point where you wonder what private characterizations one character has for the next is based on truth or an unadmitted jealously.
Each part is told by one of the woman and each part represents their personality and fate. Emma's is rich and boisterous and hopeful. Ann's is meandering, lost, with moments of warmth and richness. Rachel's is cold, empty and barren with promises of hard times even among the good.
This is very well written and very well researched. It is a small insight to what mormonism was under the eye of Smith and Young while it was still a living entity. It is also a beautiful insight to some of the most harsh and spectacular places on earth. Finally it is an insight into how women view love and even men. Maybe in the end, that is what I was reading for -- to find a little insight into myself.
If you find it at the yard sale, pick it up, you will read it that night.
The reader views John D. Lee through the eyes of three of his many, wives, Emma, his English bride, Ann, his thirteen year old child bride, and Rachel, his second wife, sister to his first wife. Told in three parts, each wife has her own distinct voice and personality. Each one presents her own perspective on life with John D. Lee and the effect that he had on each of their lives and how they each responded to his eventual disgrace.
It is a wonderful story of three women, each trying to come to terms with life and its vicissitudes, given their own needs, desires, and circumstances, as well as the nature of the time in which they lived. It is also a birds-eye view into frontier life in a polygamous household, at a time in which this doctrine was the status quo for Mormonism.
This is a well-written book, as engrossing as it is fascinating, taking the reader into a world that is foreign to most of us. It is a story about real women in a time that, to the modern reader, seems almost surreal. Those readers who like the historical fiction genre will most definitely appreciate and enjoy this excellent book.