the sound of gravel

The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner


The truth is, I'm disinclined to read anything to do with polygamy, whether biographical, autobiographical, historical, or even fiction. 

This is, in part, due to having grown up with polygamy in my periphery - I live in Salt Lake City. It wasn't just something that we heard about but never encountered. There were polygamist families living quietly in the neighborhood where I grew up, and both then and even sometimes now when I go to the store, I'll see polygamist families shopping (most recently at Target), despite that (to the best of my understanding) the majority of the groups live either far outside Salt Lake, such as down in the four corners area, or at least in the periphery, like the suburbs. 

I also tend to avoid these narratives in part due to my own biases, based on my personal interactions with real live people, and also stories, news, and a general sense that probably most anyone would have of how these lives play out. I don't really have any drive to change these biases, I'm perfectly happy to nurture them, truth be told. 

And The Sound of Gravel absolutely and completely confirms my suspicions and concerns about the environments these children and women live in. 

I was disgusted to learn how Wariner's mother only toed the party line the entire way, regardless of both her own pain and the pain of her children. Repeated scenes and incidents made no difference to her response and actions, only contributing to the horrors. She was intelligent enough and had the resources to remove her children from the situation (and even did so at one point), but fell back into it at the slightest hint of attention shown to her by her "husband" (read: the man who was not legally married or committed to her in any way, did not contribute financially or emotionally - except for in a vile and destructive sense - to the household he kept spewing his sperm into, and did much worse than take multiple "wives"). 

Very early on - perhaps in the first chapter, even - Wariner's mother called her "sister", which is highly indicative of the brainwashing and destruction these groups use to indoctrinate their children, who have no other knowledge of a life or world outside of the one in which they are raised. The women called the other women their "husbands" have sex with "sister wives", and calling your female child a "sister" as term of affection felt deeply disturbing to me, as it's normalizing the environment these children are brought into. Although this isn't what happened, I kept imagining Wariner growing up to ultimately "marry" one of the older men in the community, whether it be her stepfather or someone else also closely related enough for her own mother to continue to refer to her as "sister" in that way. 

I warned you about spoilers at the top of this review, but if you're read it anyway and really don't want any further spoilers, don't keep reading. 

Although Wariner clearly loved her mother (as most abused children still often do, as that's what they know), and would likely dispute my assessment here, I'm going to say that the death of Wariner's mother was clearly the best possible thing that could have happened to her (remaining) children (and all of the future children she clearly would've kept having despite her conditions of poverty, government fraud, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of both herself and her children, and depression). It was the only way their situation was ever going to change.