Ezekiel's Third Wife
Release: April 2019
John Bennion’s novel Ezekiel’s Third Wife immerses us in the Utah Territory of the late 1880s—a time of hardscrabble farming, plural marriage, and outsider suspicion. A dead body in a ditch after midnight raises questions of murder. But deeper still, this is a novel about individual and communal values: What debt do we owe others, and what joy can we claim for ourselves.
--Jack Harrell, author of Caldera Ridge
Aridity, Wallace Stegner wrote long ago, is the “ultimate unity” and “the one inflexible condition” of the American West, and survival there demands cooperation and community, which aridity will test to the breaking point. Nowhere has this been more true than in the West Desert of Utah where John Bennion was born and bred. Bennion’s ruralist literary roots may reach toward Hardy and Lawrence, but grow deepest into that desert dust he has never wished to shake off. Descended from 19th century British converts to Mormonism who sought to make the West Desert fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy and “blossom as the rose,” Bennion has soaked his imagination in the felt life of his patriarchal and polygamous forebears, and in this novel he summons out of the dust the voice of Rachel O’Brien Rockwood Wainwright Harker, a young polygamous wife, secret rebel, and apprentice sleuth, who discovers that “Only lust for water was strong enough to make a good person kill.” Listen for the story she has to tell.
--Bruce W. Jorgensen, writer, poet, and literary critic
Falling Toward Heaven
Alone at the airport, Howard Rockwood considers two years spent away from home. He has said good-bye to his mission president, but now his head aches. Can he fall back into the routine and expectations of his parents in Utah? Can he muster the drive to follow his instincts to figure out what he has been unable to wrap his mind around? He thinks of Allison, the young woman he met, who visits his dreams. She is educated, quick-witted the kind of "man-eating pagan" that his senile grandfather warned him about but who nonetheless makes him feel alive. If in order to find yourself you first need to become lost, then Howard is taking a first step toward self-discovery.
The prose in Bennon's first collection reflects his stories' Utah desert setting--somewhat arid and a little oppressive. The title piece, about a farmer whose brood sow turns on her piglets, is the least successful of the seven tales here; those about chemist Howard Rockwood, his family and his friends are grounded in Mormon tradition and more cohesive. ``Dust'' details Rockwood's crisis of conscience, wrought when his work on a government project results in a deadly gas. In his guilt he leaves his wife and children and goes to live in a cabin in the desert. A husband's abandoning his family, a frequent theme, is also explored in ``A Court of Love'' (which actually refers to an excommunication court), featuring Rockwood as a young man returned from a two-year mission in France to discover that his girlfriend has married someone else, his best friend is still immature and his parents are breaking up. ``Jenny, Captured by the Mormons'' takes an abandoned wife's point of view and is the best of the bunch. It follows Jenny's daily struggles to survive in Salt Lake City after her husband has embraced fundamentalism and left her and their children penniless. Without drawing moral conclusions, Bennion reveals the pain of the outsider in an extremely closed society.