Content note for physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of adults; physical abuse and neglect of children; attempted suicide.
Carolyn Jessop has gone from single college student to subservient wife in a polygamous arranged marriage in just a few days. Now, on her “honeymoon,” she’s enduring repeated sexual assaults from her new husband at night. She’s just grateful she doesn’t have to speak to him during the day, as he shows no interest in her outside of trying to fuck her. She’s reeling, and the fact that her father and stepmother are thrilled by her marriage perplexes her: “If they loved me, how could they have let me go through anything so hateful?”
In a word: religion
They think God made all this happen, and, of course, God can never ever be wrong. Merril Jessop is “a man of God,” so despite the fact that he’s a slave-master who cheats his business partners and then claims one of their daughters in marriage in order to get them to drop a lawsuit against him, he’d “never do anything hurtful or wrong in God’s eyes.” Problem is, their God is an abusive asshole. Not exactly the best judge of character.
Carolyn feels just like one of the items her new husband buys at auction during their trip. He doesn’t acknowledge her as a person. She is a thing to be used.
One of the most heartbreaking moments in the book is when they’re going through the redwood forests, and Carolyn’s remembering when her dad took her to see them. Then she says, “But it felt weird to see these places with a strange man and know that he was now my husband.”
Pow. Right in the feels.
The trip ends. When they arrive at Merril’s house, Carolyn learns that despite all the time he spent on the phone, he only talked to his favorite wife, Barbara. He ignored the others. It’s a sign of her life to come.
Merril and Barbara leave almost immediately on another business trip, which allows Carolyn to at least reschedule her finals. But her future is in serious doubt. Her dream of becoming a pediatrician is dead. It’s doubtful whether she’ll even be allowed to become a teacher.
During a bike ride with Merril’s oldest unmarried daughter, Audrey, Carolyn learns that Barbara is virtually his only wife. She travels with him constantly, neglecting her kids. She gets “all the rewards and abuses everyone else.”
Merril lets her get away with almost anything she wants. But he’s not shy about using Carolyn to stab her in the back, either, by spending time with Carolyn when he’d promised Barbara he’d do otherwise. He has two other wives, but he virtually ignores them.
Later, when they’re leaving for another trip, Barbara and Merril assign their 9 month-old son to Carolyn. This is going to be her life for now: unpaid child minder. They refuse to give her any instructions for his care. They don’t answer the phone when she calls with questions and concerns about his health. She’s completely on her own.
Merril, perhaps in a bid to wrest some control from Barbara, takes Carolyn instead of her on his next business trip, and has to deal with her throwing a fit when they return. Barbara had been in Page all week, but is too busy being angry at Merril to see her kids. When her three year-old boy Danny runs into her room, excited to see her, she hits him for it. Carolyn blames herself, believing she is the cause of all the tension in the family.
No, dear heart. It’s the fact that your religion puts people into miserable, impossible circumstances, and then encourages the worst of them to unleash their Inner Asshole.
Carolyn learns from Audrey that the family dynamics are completely fucked up, and have been since the beginning. Long ago, Merril had fallen in love with a non-FLDS girl. The prophet forced him to marry his first wife, Faunita, instead – and then ordered him to have sex with her when he refused to consummate the marriage. Years later, the Prophet forced him to marry emotionally-fragile Ruth, Barbara’s half-sister, whom he had no interest in. Then he was married to Barbara, who, like him, “loved power and domination.” She ordered him to stop having sex with Faunita, and only occasional sex for procreation with Ruth. She browbeat her sister wives into complete submission, and took control of pretty much everything. Merril beat Faunita with a mop when she tried to stand up for herself. Sometimes, he beat her so badly she couldn’t see or hear for days.
Faunita had no one to turn to for help.
In the FLDS culture, a man’s wife is his property and he can do whatever he wants to do to her. If a woman complains about violence or abuse, everyone turns on her. The assumption is that she’s disobedient. It’s always her fault. It’s a huge disgrace if your husband beats you. So women rarely speak about abuse because once they do, they’re considered rebellious.
That’s how you keep people trapped in utter misery: make them believe their salvation depends upon them being a certain way, then blame them for the abuse you dish out when they supposedly fail to achieve the impossible standard. It doesn’t matter how submissive or obedient a person is. The very fact that some psychopath is using them for a punching bag is proof they’re not perfect enough. And because it’s a god telling them to live in this way, they are forced to live in the nightmare. They are not allowed to escape it. After all, if a person were allowed to leave an abusive marriage, they may begin to believe they can leave an abusive faith. This cannot be allowed.
Audrey informs Carolyn that Barbara is at the heart of the violence and misery. Merril wasn’t physically abusive before she arrived. Now, she not only instigates violence against poor Faunita, she “encouraged Merril to attack his children.” She has a “beating board” that she uses liberally on her own and her sister-wives’ children. Audrey’s mother Faunita becomes so beaten down physically and emotionally that she leaves childcare to her older children and begins sleeping all day to escape, sometimes overdosing on medication to the point where Audrey is certain her mother is dead. Merril refuses to even check on her when Audrey comes screaming to him.
For fourteen years, Barbara has terrorized the family. Audrey now tells Carolyn that she’s their only hope. If Merril falls in love with her, Barbara’s hold on him may be broken, and the family saved.
It’s a terrible burden for an eighteen year-old girl to bear. All Carolyn wants to do is finish college. She doesn’t want to be bound to this tyrant forever, and certainly doesn’t want him falling in love with her.
But if she doesn’t win his love, she’ll end up abused and disregarded like his other wives, stuck in a marriage that is hell until death.
I’m reviewing Escape chapter-by-chapter. Pick yourself up a copy if you’d like to follow along.
Need a good book to clear your noggin after all that awful? Visit my Amazon Store. You won’t even believe how many books I’m selling!