Book Reivew: The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner

The Sound of GravelThe Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Sound of Gravel is a harrowing read. It's the biography of Ruth Wariner, who was her mother's 4th child and her father's 39th.

Ruth was the daughter of the "prophet" Joel LeBaron, a leader of Colonia LeBaron, a fundamentalist Mormon community in Mexico. Ruth's mother Kathy married Joel when she was 18 and he was 42, as his fifth wife. Ruth never knew her father, as he was brutally murdered by his own brother Ervil, a rival for power over the community, when she was but 3 months old.

After Joel's death, Kathy was left with four children, living in Colonia LeBaron in poverty. She then married a man called Lane, as his "second, second" wife (the first second wife had left him), and began to have children just about every year for the next several years.

Ruth's life was so hard. Kathy and "her kids" lived in a shack in the desert, with no running water or electricity. They lived on sacks of wheat berries and Pinto beans, supplemented with the cheese Kathy made from the milk of the cows they kept. Each month, Kathy would haul all of the kids up to Texas to get her fraudulently obtained welfare benefits from the United States. Since only the first wife was legally married to the husband, all of the other wives would collect welfare, using other people's addresses.

As I read along, I became completely disgusted with Kathy, who was so brainwashed by her corrupt religion and her husbands that she allowed all her multiple children to live in poverty and need, even though she had family in the States who would have helped her. She also allowed her child to be sexually abused, with her full knowledge. Even through all of the horror, Ruth loved her mother and tried to help her.

In the midst of this abject privation, there are very sad and preventable deaths, spousal and filial abuse, mental instability, and a few bright spots of hope - Ruth's spirit is at once pragmatic and buoyant.

By the end of the book, I was exhausted by the sheer repugnance of the life Ruth and her siblings were forced to endure. I was so glad she added some of the story of her life after her escape from Colonia LeBaron. This book slams home the injustices of perverted paternalism, when men are treated as gods, allowed to behave however they like, and women are treated sub-humanly.

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