Shattered Dreams by Irene Spencer

Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist's Wife Cover
Title:  Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist’s Wife
Author:  Irene Spencer
Release date:  August 21, 2007
Publisher:  Center Street
Pages:  432
Genre:  Nonfiction, Memoir
Source:  Library

I decided to read Shattered Dreams because I read a review of Spencer’s new book,Cult Insanity: A Memoir of Polygamy, Prophets, and Blood Atonement and thought it sounded interesting, but figured I should probably read her first memoir before her new one.  And as most of you probably know, I’m fascinated by polygamy and have read many books, both fiction and nonfiction, on the subject already.  So why wouldn’t I want to read another one?

Spencer’s story is different from many polygamy stories in that she actually wanted to marry her husband.  She was his second wife (of an eventual eight or nine total wives) but she was actually in love with another man when he proposed, and felt that God had told her to marry Verlan (her husband, not the one she was in love with at the time).  Because she felt that God told her to marry Verlan, she broke it off with the love of her life and entered into a polygamous union.  And throughout her marriage, not only did she want to be around her husband, but she truly could not get enough of him.  She was jealous of the other wives’ time with him, and even though she was close with several of the wives, she would always compete for his attention whenever she could.  And even though they truly lived in poverty, beyond anything I’ve read about in other books about polygamy, she didn’t completely hate her situation most of the time.  Spencer truly felt called to being a plural wife and a mother (she ended up having thirteen children in total) and believed for most of her life that living “the principle” was God’s highest calling for a person – even though, generally speaking, she was pretty unhappy doing it.

What Shattered Dreams is about is Spencer coming to the slow realization that polygamy is not all it’s cracked up to be.  That women only being allowed to be intimate with their husbands 5 or 6 times per year, while husbands are intimate with their wives whenever they wish, doesn’t make sense.  That raising a family under a curtain of secrecy because of an illegal lifestyle just doesn’t help children in the long run.  That God cannot possibly want His people to raise their children in poverty and squalor because there’s no way one man can financially support fifty children.

What I liked about Shattered Dreams was the fact that I could really understand Irene Spencer.  That was hard, too, because in the beginning when she was so in love with her boyfriend and ended up breaking up with him to marry Verlan, I wanted to shake her and say, “STOP!  You KNOW this cannot end well!  Don’t marry him!”  But based on everything she’d ever been taught about God, she truly believed that was God’s plan for her.  I felt so sad for her, that she was so brainwashed to believe that this kind of life was what God wanted for her.  It really broke my heart.

It was interesting to see that Verlan never really was abusive to his wives and children, at least not any time that was documented by Spencer.  There was a lot to hate about Spencer’s life, but abuse (as far as I could tell) wasn’t part of it.  It sounds awful that it’s “interesting” to find a lack of abuse in a polygamous family, but it seems from everything I read on this subject that physical, emotional, and sexual abuse are rampant in these communities.  So it was refreshing to see that even though Verlan had plenty of faults, and I personally believe this family was extremely misdirected in their faith, it didn’t seem to be the case that any type of abuse was really going on in their family (besides the obvious neglect that must occur when caring for so many children with such limited resources).

I’m glad I had the chance to read Shattered Dreams, and it definitely gave me another look into polygamy, different from several of the ones I’ve had in the past.  I don’t know if I’ll be picking up Cult Insanity anytime soon, but I would be interested in hearing more from Irene Spencer so I’m sure I will get to it eventually.


15 thoughts on “Shattered Dreams by Irene Spencer”

  1. I read that book pre-blog and found it fascinating too. I felt like Verlan really wanted to do the best he could by his wives. What I found interesting was that at least one of Irene’s children chose the polygamist lifestyle for themselves.

    1. I also thought it was fascinating that a few of Spencer’s kids decided to live polygamy for themselves… even after seeing how miserable their mother was, even after she taught them that it wasn’t the right thing by God. Interesting read, all around.

  2. What I don’t like about many polygamous books is that the main character (or subject) comes across as so against polygamy that it turns me off. There must be something to being in that religion and those types of marriages that makes people do it. I’m not necessarily saying I have to agree with it, but I want to understand and it’s difficult to understand when the speaker is almost vengeful in their speech. This book sounds very interesting and more even tempered than the other ones that I have read.

    1. Yeah, I can’t say that I really “understand” why people choose polygamy, even from all my reading of these books, other than the fact that they are supposed to. And truthfully this lifestyle gives men a TON of power, so I can see why they’d stay in the lifestyle even with the harm that it does. And as for women, well it seems like many of them are trapped in a marriage at a very young age (like 14, 15, or 16) and by the time they have a child, they are not able to leave because they won’t be able to take their kids with them… so they get sucked in too. I don’t know… it doesn’t make much sense to me, as a whole, except for the fact that sometimes people just continue to do what they’ve always been doing because that’s what they’ve been raised to believe is the only way.

  3. This sounds interesting. I haven’t read anything about polygamy–most of what I know is from the news (negative) or Big Love (which I think tries to be fair in some ways, but still…it’s a TV show and therefore mostly focused on entertainment).

    1. I’ve never seen Big Love but I’ve always wanted too. I’m sure, like you said, it’s focused only on the entertainment value of polygamy, but still… could be interesting.

  4. It is interesting that she chose her husband. Great review. You’ve almnost tempted me to read it and I really don’t like these types of books 🙂

  5. I read this a while ago and really enjoyed it. I thought she did a good job of painting what her life was like and how hard it is for a woman to leave “the church.” Excellent review!

    1. Thanks, Staci! I agree – it’s nearly impossible for these women to get out, and I also think that Carolyn Jessop did a great job showing that in her book, “escape” which you should definitely read if you haven’t already.

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