Caitlin Myer explores family, identity and the role of women in her upcoming book Wiving: A Memoir of Loving then Leaving the Patriarchy. The story starts in Provo, Utah where she’s the youngest child in a medium-sized Mormon family. And her Art Professor dad holds it all together because Mom is sick in bed most days. That view of marriage and being a wife colors Myer’s life and this memoir.
Early in the story, Myer focuses on her mother’s illness(es) and how it affects the family. She talks about things like her bread baking family chore—at age six. And the way exhibiting quiet, sweet, and cheerful behavior becomes her focus.
As she grows older, that attitude becomes problematic though. It’s so ingrained in her that speaking out against sexually abusive men is unthinkable. As the story progresses, Myer weaves these men and their abuses into the ways her mother’s illness affects her. Plus, it’s all in the context of Mormonism, her own mental health, and, to some degree, patriarchy as a whole.
Myer throws in plenty of details about Mormon life, primarily as it relates to concepts of family and marriage. She explains the way Mormon families are together for eternity. As long as they follow church doctrines. And, in her case, what happens to a family member who leaves the church. It’s both fascinating and disturbing in its restriction.
Sure, Myer tells the story of her life. But she also focuses on the other people in her life and how they affect her. For example, she details much of her mother’s illnesses. Still, her parents play that close to the vest, so we don’t get total explanation. And, as a Mormon daughter, she focuses on becoming a Mormon wife. So, her coming of age tale happens as it relates to men, rather than strictly on her own merits.
I think that’s what she’s trying to convey. That her life was never hers alone. Thus, separating herself from either her mother or these men was a Herculean task. That makes her eventual growth and individuation an incredible victory. She tells us in her subtitle that she leaves the patriarchy, so this is no spoiler. The crux of this memoir is how she leaves the family / church / patriarchy fold and becomes her own person.
If you’re wondering how this compares to another Mormon “escapee” memoir, Educated by Tara Westover, just know it’s quite different. Myer and Westover both suffer abuses but they are not at all the same. Westover’s family home was considerably more unsafe than Myer’s. And their road out of Mormonism may be parallel at times, but each is unique.
Myer’s writing style is as much like reading a found journal as it is a memoir. She uses sentence fragments liberally. They give the memoir a frenetic quality that reflects the thought processes it describes. But the style and content are deeply personal, and even lyrical at times. This is a woman willing to bare her soul to readers, and deserves praise for her courage.
Recommend for memoir readers who aren’t uncomfortable with complex families, mental illness, and religious idiosyncrasies.
Trigger warnings: sexual abuse, mental illness, suicidal thoughts
Many thanks to Arcade Press and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review.