This story takes place in Utah in a ward of the Mormon community. The Bishop’s wife is Linda Wallheim. Her husband Curt, the Bishop, is also an Accountant, full time, at his regular job. He is tired and overworked a good deal of the time but believes he has been called to this service. Assisting her husband, Linda counsels various troubled families. Once an atheist, she is now a true believer and is fully immersed in her role. She uncovers secrets and discovers that there are unsolved murders and unhappy marriages that she had never known about. She learns of physical, mental and sexual abuse that she hadn’t thought existed in her Mormon community. She provides whatever assistance she can to members who are suffering, and once drawn in, she tries to ferret out the hidden secrets to solve the developing mysteries.
Linda’s job was to be the listener, to enable the member to solve their own problems, not to solve it for them. Most of the time she offered kindness and compassion, and she didn’t judge them. She believed that was G-d’s work. She visited the sick and the troubled, but generally, she offered the same advice repetitively, always using the simple phrase “I’m sorry, what can I do to help?” to all she comforted, regardless of the differences in their problems. The striking thing about Linda Waldheim was that when she got overly involved, she almost always misjudged the circumstances and blamed the wrong people for their lack of judgment. She kept jumping to false conclusions without gathering all the facts. She even withheld evidence in police investigations and interfered in their progress as she drew all sorts of incorrect conclusions. She believed she was the only one who could solve their problems.
Linda seemed very naïve much of the time and at other times reminded me of Pollyanna. When she was confused or frustrated, she did marathon cooking and cleaning which eased her mind, but didn’t solve the problem. Too often, her own lack of judgment and common sense put her in danger or forced her to react inappropriately or to turn a blind eye to the transgressions she discovered. In spite of her meddling, she represented someone, who in her role as Bishop’s wife was kind and caring. The way the community came together to support each other, to share sorrow, loss, and joy was admirable. It was moving to read about how they tried, as a group, to ease each other’s pain and suffering.
The story seemed to concentrate on women who had been abused in one fashion or another and had suffered in silence. Many of the men were portrayed as villains who took advantage of their wives. They were arrogant and abusive. Too many of the situations created by the author seem contrived. In addition to infidelity, sexual abuse, physical abuse and spousal abuse, there was illness, misogyny, the whisper of homosexuality, and of course, murder. I don’t think any societal ill was neglected. The book offered a glimpse into the Mormon world, and much of it was negative. The place of the woman in that society left a lot to be desired. They were clearly secondary and inferior to men. The woman’s place was perceived to be in the home. She was to maintain it and care for her husband and family, providing meals, doing laundry and household chores. Her job was to satisfy her husband’s needs, her own were secondary. Surprisingly, most did not resent their second class roles, although some questioned it.
I felt that most of the characters were only developed on the surface, so identifying with any of their issues was problematic. There was so much moralizing and analyzing, it soon became tedious. It felt like there were two kinds of men, weak or abusive, and two kinds of women, naïve or abused; there was little or nothing representing the middle road.