Book Club Review September 2016: The Sound of Gravel

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September 2016

The Sound of Gravel

blog by Cindy Bushey

Resiliency is one of the most amazing human characteristics.  To overcome hopeless obstacles, to rise from the ashes of a heart-rending situation, to rescue someone from imminent danger, to reach for a dream and achieve it – any one of these would bring a rich sense of fulfillment to the average person.  We are bombarded by hopeless cases and a world of hurt vividly portrayed in the media every day.  Now and then, a case of resilience shines like a star in an inky sky and, by its presence, inspires the rest of us.  Luckily, Zion’s readers were privileged to meet one average person who achieved all of the above goals when we read “The Sound of Gravel” as our September book choice.

Ruth Wariner was raised in a polygamist Mormon community, which was a remnant of several Mormon groups who moved to northern Mexico around 1900 when the practice of polygamy was officially rescinded by the mainstream Latter Day Saints Church in the United States.   She was the fourth child of her mother and the 39th of her father.  Our readers learned of sister wives and the relationships that develop in a closed community.  We saw how fanaticism and brainwashing can ruin psyches.  We struggled with Ruth’s mother’s decisions and behavior and watched as Ruth’s life of privation descended into abuse at the hands of her step-father and then tragedy.  Finally, we listened as she reached her breaking point and clawed her way out of her imprisoned existence and rescued her siblings while still a teenager.  To emerge at the end of that experience and come to an acceptance and then forgiveness of her mother’s actions was truly impressive.

This memoir was an education concerning the polygamist background and beliefs of the early LDS church and gave Zion’s readers a greater understanding of the patriarchal society that is still its legacy.  As Ruth’s mother, Kathy, tried to raise her children to uphold Christian values yet lied at the U.S. border crossings and to the welfare workers, one of our readers wondered how these people could compartmentalize enough to hold conflicting and contradictory beliefs.  How twisted were their souls?  Why was sharing resources among sister wives never considered in this so-called Christian community?  None of us could understand how Kathy could bear to remove her children from their grandparents’ presence or a home with facilities we take for granted and return them to a run down trailer with no heat, running water, or electricity in another country.  Most of all, we could not understand how a mother could tolerate sexual abuse of her children.  We were shaken by the comparison of this cult to those of Jim Jones and Warren Jeffries, men with mesmerizing charisma who left a trail of death, destruction, and broken family ties.

The book was gripping, and several readers remarked that it held their attention from the beginning to the end.  We enjoyed reading the memoir but were shaken by the contents.  As one reader said, she didn’t want to put the book down unless she could throw it at the scumbag step-father.  We marveled that Ruth, so hurt by her mother’s treatment, could somehow work through her feelings and reach an acceptance of her mother’s flaws and joyfully seek a new life for herself and her siblings.  Her joy in that new life is also a legacy of her religious beliefs as the Mormon faithful are known for their joyfulness and celebration of life.  We all are part and parcel of our beliefs and life experiences, and watching the track of Ruth Wariner’s life was awe-inspiring.  It was no surprise that 10 of our readers gave it one thumb up, and three of them gave it two thumbs up.