Friday, June 11, 2010

Escape by Carolyn Jessop

As a work of literature, this book could have used additional editing. As a story, however, it's compelling and disturbing.

Escape is the personal account of Carolyn Jessop's life and eventual escape from polygamy in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). Married at 18 to a man three times her age, Carolyn recounts harrowing memories of abuse in every sense of the word--physical and mental abuse, the abuse of power, and even spiritual abuse. It's truly disturbing when ever she mentions specific dates; it reminds the reader that these events occurred only a few decades ago, and continued into the 21st century.

The story is interesting and somewhat well strung-together. My main issue with the editing was that many details were repeated multiple times, and I felt that some of the stories were redundant, particularly those relating to Carolyn's sister-wives. I also had a difficult time following Carolyn's actual evolution throughout her journey. Perhaps because it's written in hindsight, she chose to emphasize mainly her rebellious qualities (or rather, the situations where she was willing to stand up for herself--regarded as rebellious by her husband and sister-wives). While I'm sure her experiences over nearly two decades of abusive marriage significantly changed her over the years, I felt that since it was being narrated from the already-changed Carolyn's perspective, it was difficult to understand or get a genuine feel for her initial faith in the FLDS religion and culture.

One aspect of the book that I found particularly interesting was how men were also manipulated and mistreated in the FLDS. Since Escape is the story of a woman's experience, it often emphasizes the crimes committed by men in the community, and women are generally presented as mere pawns within a larger power-play. Carolyn does mention quite a few times, however, the abuses that men suffered and how men also served as pawns within the power-structure of the FLDS (particularly when Warren Jeffs came to power). Although her husband, Merrill Jessop, is undeniably a cruel, monstrous person, Carolyn does present us with a sliver of his his own sad story. She describes how as a young man Merrill had fallen in love with a woman, and everything was done to prevent him from marrying her. He was forced into an arranged marriage, was not allowed to see the woman he loved, and was forced time and time again to marry women he did not love or want.

I find it deeply touching that Carolyn included this detail about her husband, who is otherwise described as a cruel, manipulative man, who was essentially a puppet to Warren Jeffs and his power-hungry wife Barbara. Carolyn mentions other crimes committed by the FLDS against men in the community, and these details make her a particularly compelling narrator. Although Carolyn suffered as a woman, she understands the seriousness of the FLDS's crimes from a holistic humanitarian perspective.

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