Book of the Week: The Sound of Gravel, by Ruth Wariner

This book is a page-turner. You can take it to the beach. Once you start, you won’t want to stop.

Those are surprising things to say about a memoir of polygamy, neglect, and sexual abuse. But Ruth Wariner tells her coming-of-age story in a compelling way. Your delight at Ruth’s strength will overcome your disgust with her church.

Ruth’s father took his family from Las Vegas to Mexico so they could live in a colony where he was chief prophet and polygamist. Ruth’s mother, Kathy, did her appointed job of bearing him children until his brother murdered him in an intra-church dispute.

Ruth was her father’s thirty-ninth child and her mother’s fourth.

Mom–Kathy–then remarried an unbearable stepfather, Lane, and continued to bear more children. The family traveled back and forth over the border to collect welfare checks for each child from the hated U.S. government. Because Lane was kinder to his other wives, Kathy’s house in Mexico was never warm, clean, or safe. Instead, it was full of dangling and dangerous cords from Lane’s unfinished electrical projects.

Safety and love briefly appeared in the California home of Kathy’s parents (Ruth’s grandparents) where Ruth led a healthy and happy life for a short time.

But Mom was devoted to Lane, the colony, and polygamy, and always returned to them, even though they harmed her family. Lane abused Ruth and numerous other young girls but — unsurprisingly — the colony sided with the patriarch over his children.

Some of the family details are excruciatingly painful to read. Yet Ruth survived it all, building a better life for herself and her siblings. She is even wisely loving of her mother who wouldn’t remove her from Lane and the church.

The Sound of Gravel is a testament to a woman’s strength to survive.

Leslie C. Griffin

Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law. Professor Griffin, who teaches constitutional law, is known for her interdisciplinary work in law and religion. She holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale University and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.