09 Sep / The Bishop’s Wife [A Linda Wallheim Mystery, Book 1] by Mette Ivie Harrison
Here in my temporary exile in the Beehive State, I remain fascinated by the religion that dominates my current location. In a moment of ironic timing, as I was wandering the many surrounding mountains with narrator Kirsten Potter stuck in the ears, this passage stuck: “Whenever friends from other parts of the country come to Utah, the first thing they mention is the feeling they get from the mountains. Some people feel oppressed by them. Others feel safe, like they are wrapped in a cocoon.”
The same could certainly be said of any religion – and holds especially true for the eponymous bishop’s wife in this adult novel debut by award-winning young adult writer Mette Ivie Harrison.
As the wife of a respected Mormon bishop, Linda Wallheim is the unofficial “mother” of the ward, since her husband Kurt is considered its father: “that meant there were five hundred people who were under [her] care.” Among that enormous brood, Linda becomes enmeshed where she shouldn’t be, with a young man whose wife has abandoned him and their 5-year-old daughter, with an older woman who is about to lose her elderly husband who is agitated on his deathbed with an untold secret, and with a troubled husband seeking advice on how to make his wife “feel as special as she really is.”
The mother of five grown sons, Linda understandably continues to mourn the loss of her stillborn daughter. Young Kelly, separated from her own mother, grabs Linda’s heart and won’t let go, making Linda more determined to find out what might have happened to missing Carrie. Lacking close women friends, Linda’s relationship with Anna whose widowhood is inevitable grows quickly, as Anna reveals her concerns about being her husband’s second wife as his eternal bond remains with his first with whom he shared only a few years in comparison to their many decades together. And, with growing suspicions of abuse within their tight community, Linda can’t help but be initially uneasy about young Brad’s distress over his depressed, medicated wife.
Linda’s maternal instincts – as well as her sense of justice, especially in a community so dominated by men-centric rules – leads her to ignore the expectations, requests, demands to uphold her position as a devout Mormon woman, even as she is maligned for her transgressions [she slaps the bully who calls his 5-year-old grandchild a ‘whore,’ is herself called a ‘whore’ in response, and is asked to apologize by her bishop husband – really??!!]. Regardless of personal cost, Linda is determined to tend and protect her flock. Mysterious phone calls, a fading dress possibly covered in blood, a buried hammer entangled with what might be human hair, the unreliable memories of a small child, will all eventually reveal heinous tragedies within a community circumscribed by rules and regulations that members believe are commanded by God.
Perhaps even more intriguing than her fiction, however, is Harrison’s own life. A self-described “active Mormon,” Harrison thoughtfully, openly discusses her own spiritual struggles on her website’s “Mormon Page.” She reveals that writing Wife was “a part of this attempt to believe again, trying to conceive of a Mormon woman whom I might one day be,” admitting that her fictional character “is more faithful than I am at this point in my life.” Even more than her protagonist, Harrison – a Princeton PhD who completed a Masters by age 19, a former professor who is a Huffington Post blogger, a triathlete mother of five – is a fascinating personality to get to know as she examines and challenges dogma, doctrine, doing good, and not always being right.
Yes, Linda is already contracted to make a comeback in a future novel. Harrison divulges in an interview “some ideas,” including “black people and the Mormon priesthood [men of African descent were not allowed to be ordained until 1978] … the legacy of polygamy, and … LGBTQ Mormon youth, who have the highest rate of suicide in the country, and who are being kicked out of supposedly loving church homes.” Linda is sure to prove again she’s no shy, silent bishop’s wife – and even more kudos to her creator for making her so!