It is very rare that I become truly enthralled with a book. Sure, I have those books that are really great, but if I need to put them down to watch TV or hang out with my roommates or work, I typically have little trouble taking a time out for a few hours. Escape by Carolyn Jessop is an extreme exception to this. I literally got angry every time I was forced to stop reading this book. It was absolutely the most engaging, enthralling work of non-fiction I’ve ever read, and more engrossing than many works of fiction.
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0767927575&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifrCarolyn Jessop tells the story of her life in the FLDS, a radical fundamentalist cult which branched off of the Mormon church when polygamy was outlawed around the turn of the 20th century. Born into a polygamist family, she was abused by her depressed mother and raised in a gaggle of the children of two different women. She grows up knowing that her fate is similar to her mother’s: she will be married at a young age to a man who will most likely already have multiple wives. The belief in this cult is that men become gods after death and are able to determine whether their wives follow them into heaven. The only way a woman may do this is to please her husband in all things, and to bear as many children as possible. Though this sounds awful according to our modern feminist standards, these women are brainwashed by the generations that have come before that it is the most glorious existence imaginable. They are raised to believe that everyone outside their “church” is wicked and evil, and will be destroyed by God. They are programmed to never desire to escape or disobey, for fear of being excommunicated and sent to hell. Jessop herself as a child is made to believe by her grandmother that it is the most honorable fate a woman can achieve. Pardon my intolerance, but it’s disgusting.
Carolyn, at 18, becomes the fourth wife of Merril Jessop, who is a prominent man in the community. Fortunately for her, she has already completed a year of college by the time she is married, and is allowed to continue. Over the course of her fifteen years of marriage, she has 8 children for her abusive husband. The house in which she lives is an atrocious blend of abuse, neglect, hate, competition, and dishonesty. Each wife is considered a mother to the other women’s children, and so are permitted to beat them, starve them, neglect them, etc. Abuse is not spoken of in the community. Full obedience to the man of the house is expected, and abuse is considered an appropriate punishment. If a woman complains of her abuse, she is shamed as a woman who is unable to please her husband.
Please remember, folks, this is the late 20th-early 21st century. It sounds like something one might hear about in the Middle East, but all of this takes place in the United States of America. Women, in this community, have zero rights. The book is kind of like a car accident. You know it’s awful, but you can’t tear your eyes away. I shouldn’t have enjoyed this book, but due to my perverse human nature and curiosity about the conditions in which other people can live and survive, I found myself enjoying it immensely.
The most thrilling part is her escape. She is determined to bring all of her children with her, including a premature infant, a young boy with such bad developmental issues he cannot ingest food but must get his nutrients from a tube, and two eldest children who think she is leading them into a life of sinfulness and resist her at every opportunity. She manages to get herself and all of her children out, and fights the biggest legal battle that the FLDS has ever faced. All through this she maintains a strength of will that is almost unbelievable. She hones her survival skills in her shoddy marriage so that when she’s out in the “real world” she is able to hold her own despite the odds stacked against her.
It reads like a novel, with the exception of her amateurish voice. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and I really think everyone should read it.