A child's-eye view of polygamy
The 28th child of a Mormon father who married 16 wives and sired 48 offspring, author Dorothy Allred Solomon shares the story of her fundamentalist upbringing in her compelling new memoir. Although it contains moments of lightness, Predators, Prey, and Other Kinfolk has none of the whimsy the title suggests. Because the practice of plural marriage was both illegal and officially outlawed by the Mormon church long before her birth in 1949, Solomon lived her early years in the shadows and on the run. And because fiercely held but unpopular beliefs are innately volatile, this one ultimately cost her father his life.
Yet, in spite of all the troubles she chronicles, Solomon's recollections of her father the naturopathic physician Rulon C. Allred are suffused with warmth and affection. Her descriptions of the natural beauty of Utah rise to the level of poetry. Solomon has an extraordinary memory for childhood incidents and feelings. When coupled with material gleaned from family journals, it enables her to recreate not simply her own growing-up but also an incredibly rich and convoluted social order that has seldom been depicted from the inside. In Solomon's eyes, her father was not the insatiable master of an ever-expanding harem, as outsiders may have viewed him, but rather the conscientious, hard-working and besieged CEO of a generally harmonious community. There were many sources of disharmony beyond the community, however. While it had once enshrined polygamy as a divine commandment, the Mormon church now viewed it as an embarrassment and a political liability. Those who, like Allred, broke away from the church often fought viciously among themselves. To shield their parents, the children were taught to evade and dissemble.
Throughout her turbulent youth which included a rape, her father's murder and an early marriage Solomon was able to maintain a stabilizing sense of detachment. Without condemning it outright, she concluded early on that plural marriage was not for her and, in so doing, began her slow and uneasy assimilation into the outside world.