Throughout her childhood, Irene Spencer heard repeatedly that polygamy was not only expected but required in order to receive the rewards of heaven. She believed God told her she must marry her brother-in-law Verlan LeBaron and become his second wife so Irene did as she felt God commanded. Soon after their marriage, Verlan fled Utah with his young wives and moved them to the LeBaron family ranch in Mexico. In the Mexican desert, Irene lived in broken-down adobe buildings with no electricity or running water. Irene hadn’t expected that this required path to heaven would involve a life filled with poverty.
Focusing on the abject poverty polygamous families find themselves in rather than the marrying of underage girls, Shattered Dreams is heartbreaking, honest, and informative. Rather than telling you why this is wrong, Spencer shows you. Repeatedly.
It’s simply written — few big words, short and simple sentences — but it’s also very powerful. Spencer comes across as friend you’re having a conversation with rather than a victim, and what fascinated me the most about Shattered Dreams is Spencer’s explanation of the background and reasoning behind polygamy. The memoir is, therefore, more educational and enlightening than other memoirs I’ve read.
“By the time I came along, fundamentalist Mormons were a huge embarrassment to the LDS Church. And the fundamentalists, in turn, both resented and envied the LDS. We considered ourselves the chosen ones, the pure in heart, the true “Zion.” And the LDS, having abandoned the Principle, were merely worldly. In a way they were worse than the world, since they’d once known the light and gave it up. We prayed for their return.” (pg. 15)
But — and this is my biggest complaint about Shattered Dreams — Spencer does spend a lot of time talking about how her husband, Verlan, and her never had sex. Forget the poverty, the extraction of worms from her children’s bums, and the lack of humane living conditions, the lack of sex and subsequent jealousy are what consume her. At least, that’s how it comes across in her memoir. There are also quite a few editing mistakes — randomly capitalized words in the middle of sentences, Oxford commas used in clumps, quotation marks left off or out of place — and these mistakes started to get on my nerves after a while.
I’m looking forward to reading His Favorite Wife by Susan Ray Schmidt as Irene and Susan were both married to Verlan — “sister wives” as they are called in the polygamy world — and I think it would be very interesting to read about the relationship from Susan’s point of view. Although, honestly, I think Lucy’s point of view would be the most interesting, followed by Charlotte’s, of course.
- Spencer, Irene. Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist’s Wife. New York: Center Street, 2007. Print. 385 pgs. ISBN: 9781599957197. Source: Library.