Review of Wives and Sisters

Wives and Sisters

By Natalie Collins
St. Martin’s Paperbacks (March 7, 2006)

Review by Jana L. Perskie

Allison Jensen, the principal character in “Wives And Sisters,” was raised in a Mormon household by parents who strictly adhered to the precepts of their religion, and to the practices of that extremely patriarchal and close-knit society. Allison, a child with a nimble, curious mind, learned by age six that there were many questions in life that should not be asked – because they would never be answered. When the Priesthood speaks on an issue, or more importantly when they do not speak, it is because there are some things congregants can never understand or be told. Members of the flock are expected to accept, without question, the word of God as understood by his prophets and interpreted by the Priesthood. Church members are strongly sanctioned if they look for answers elsewhere, as that would put them at risk of being introduced to new ideas which could lead them astray and into temptation. However, children, adolescents and many adults often become angry and confused when their very logical questions are never addressed. In “Wives And Sisters” author Natalie R. Collins has written a scathing commentary about a young woman’s fight against the teachings of a fundamentalist religion, which has scarred her and caused her and her family a lifetime of pain, suffering and loss. Reading the novel, I did not get the feeling that Ms. Collins’ anger is specifically directed against the Church of the Latter Day Saints, but against strict adherence to any fundamentalist religion where individual rights are subordinated to the needs of the entire community.

Allison Jensen is haunted by the results of cover-ups, lies and rampant denial used to protect the Church at the risk of the individual members. Allison’s rage is against the men who, in the guise of religious Elders and leaders, play God, ignoring the laws set forth by man and society. Men who, in order to protect their church, harbor those who commit crimes of the worst kind.

When Allison was just six years-old, she witnessed a heinous event which would traumatize her for her entire life. She and her best friend Cindy were playing with their dolls by a shallow creek in the woods near their homes. Suddenly they were accosted by a bearded stranger who held them at gunpoint. He ordered the girls to take off their clothes, and when they refused, he grabbed Cindy while Allison took-off at a run. She never saw her friend again. Along with her feelings of horror and loss, she was weighed down with guilt because she had escaped and made no effort to save her best friend. Her parents and the Mormon community responded to the incident, and to the little girl’s anguished questions, with a wall of silence. Rather than look to the police to begin an investigation, they avoided possible exposure, covering-up for a sexual predator, and ordered Allison to pray as a solution for her nightmares. Her father, always a strict disciplinarian, was ready with his belt if ever Allison or her siblings got out of line. Allison’s mother, used as a baby-making machine, warned by her doctor not to have any more children, finally died as a result of a miscarriage when Allison was still quite young.

As soon as she turned 18, Allison left home and paid her way through college in order to be able to support herself. She vowed never to return to the Mormon Church or community. The young woman begins a long search for herself and her place in the world, entering therapy, as a result of a serious bout with depression. She begins to discover that all the ghosts and monsters which lurk in her mind, are not figments of her childhood imagination. Many of her demons are real people, evil people, who committed crimes that were all too real. And these criminals are still around, stalking Allison and testing her sanity as well as threatening her life.

Author Collins excels in developing Allison, an extremely complex character. She is, at once, filled with rage, yet still compassionate and loving – rebellious, but loyal and ready to lend a hand when needed, even to her father, stepmother and family who have so wronged her. Although she is intelligent and attractive, she is terribly insecure and desperately seeks love and male attention. Ms. Collins’ other characters are just as well thought-out and 3-dimensional. The novel is more a coming-of-age story, a young woman’s struggle to survive against an almost cult-like upbringing. There are elements of mystery and suspense, especially toward the end of the book – but this is more than a mystery-thriller. Overall, the writing is good, but I found the chapters to be extremely short, sometimes only a page and a half. This made for some choppiness and disrupted the flow of the narrative. However, I do recommend “Wives And Sisters.” It is a most compelling read.

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