Today is another Literary Wives discussion about the book The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison.
Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!
Linda Wallheim is the wife of a Mormon bishop. She has no official role in his duties but he occasionally asks her to help him by talking to someone he thinks is troubled. The couple’s lives are busy with many church functions and many visitors for the bishop. But it is one woman who doesn’t come who is soon to cause an uproar.
Jared Helm comes over very early one morning with his five-year-old daughter Kelly to report his wife Carrie missing. He claims she got up in the middle of the night and left. Linda is angered by his crude and sexist remarks about his wife and begins to wonder about his story. She is even more concerned when the Westons, Carrie’s parents, tell Linda and her husband Kurt that Carrie would never have left without Kelly.
Soon, there’s a full-blown police investigation into Carrie’s whereabouts. Although Jared’s father Alex is even less likable and more misogynistic than Jared, Linda tries to stay on pleasant terms with them to look after Kelly.
In the meantime another neighbor finds out suddenly that he is dying. Kurt has noticed that Anna Torstenson has a problem, and Kurt and Linda soon find out that her husband Tobias is dying. Anna loves Tobias, but she is his second wife and he has refused to be sealed in the temple with her, meaning they will not live out eternity together. He has instead often talked about his first wife. As he gets very ill, he wants to visit his first wife’s grave, but neither Anna nor either of Tobias’ grown sons know where she is buried. Upon examination, different people realize they’ve been told different things about the cause of her death.
This novel is fascinating, as much of interest because of the details of life in a modern Mormon ward as for the mystery. Linda is a complex character, always ready to help but sometimes struggling with her role in her husband’s work. The novel is apparently based upon a true case.
What does this book say about wives or the experience of being a wife?
I think that The Bishop’s Wife is the most complex of the books I have read for this club in its examination of “wifehood.” As in the other books, there are several marriages depicted, some of them quite off-kilter. Linda’s and Kurt’s is very much a partnership. Although her primary role is as a wife and mother, he engages her in his work when he can, even though people’s confidences remain confidential. When he thinks a troubled person might be more likely to confide in his wife, he asks her to visit them. Although they have several disagreements about her involvement in the Helm case, he agrees that she must do as she thinks best.
Anna finds, I think, that she has subsumed some of her own personality to please her husband. It takes her awhile, but she learns to look forward to a new start to her own life after his death.
Some of the other marriages depicted are shaded by childhood trauma or by completely dysfunctional relationships. Linda is sensitive to any hints of sexism, but there appears to be plenty in the community. One of the things I found a little shocking was the speed with which one widower decides to remarry and the acceptance that decision apparently has in the community. And there is another marriage that is entirely shocking.
The old-fashioned phrase “help meet” seems to describe Linda’s role as wife. She is concerned about the hours Kurt puts into his work without being jealous of the time taken away from her. She and Kurt have a warm give and take of views, and she has a close relationship with her sons. Her biggest regret is the death of her stillborn daughter.