Author: Irene Spencer, 2007
Book Review by Nancy Mereska
Irene Spencer states at the end of her book that writing the book helped her heal; but, the book certainly does not read like a rant or a catharsis. It is an honest, candid account of a young teen girl from four generations of Mormon polygamous stock who had a chance at accepting a monogamous marriage with a man who was truly in love with her, but chose the way of her forbearers. Only her mother did not want her to have anything to do with the LeBaron clan because “there is insanity in that family.” Don’t all mid-teens think they can do better than their parents?
By becoming the second wife of Verlan LeBaron, she launched him in The Principle where he could gain glory and godhood. She launched herself into absolute poverty, slavery, birthing baby after baby and all the misery that comes with it. While Spencer’s book may have helped her heal, other women who have left any kind of Mormonism feel validated for their own trials that were thrust upon them to be endured.
In the LeBaron clan of Mormon polygamy, a man had to have a quorum of wives (seven) in order to reach godhood. They settled in Mexico away from the peering eyes of law enforcement in the States. While most of the wives lived in squalid conditions, the men went back to the States for work or formed companies in order to glean income for their ever-growing families. Irene’s young life happened in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. She and other LeBaron wives had no running water, no electricity, not even modern amenities to make their adobe huts homelike.
Husbands were seldom around and when they were the women had to take turns being with him. One very clear observation throughout the book is their desperate need for companionship and affection from their husbands. Sex for lustful reasons is a sin even between husband and wife in Mormon polygamy and Irene frequently screamed for passion in her relationship with Verlan, literally died for some validity from him while producing a baby a year even after a Mexican doctor told both Irene and Verlan how dangerous it was for her health.
This saga is truly about a young woman who grew up believing in The Principle as taught by Joseph Smith and BrighamYoung. In her childhood idealism she thought she would be the perfect uncomplaining, void of jealousy plural wife. She was so very wrong. She was taught that her very salvation came through her husband and his priesthood. When she had her tantrums and begged for that which her husband could not give, she was admonished and belittled.
The thread of hope that Verlan kept holding out in front of her through this incredible story of survival is disgusting. The reader can see how over and over again Verlan’s promises are not going to be kept; but she is kept in the marriage and the lifestyle by those vacant promises.
The book shows how terrible it is to be married to a man who puts his idea of God and religion above all else. It also shows how in Mormon polygamy a man can fulfill his sexual desires with more wives and leave those very wives wanting for the intimacy that exists between one man and one woman in monogamy.
Verlan’s harem consisted of ten wives, two of them widows who bore him no children. His eight wives bore him twenty-nine boys and twenty-nine girls. Irene bore fourteen of those children. She became the slave wife to stay at home when two other sister wives went out to work to help support the huge family. At one time Irene was caring for twenty-five children plus cooking for the field hands who were hired to help tend the LeBaron Mexican farms while the men worked in the States for wages. The tragedy in this story is that these young women truly believed in what they were doing—that endurance and hardship in this life brings rewards in the next.
Verlan LeBaron died in a car crash near Mexico City in 1981. Irene returned to the States, took courses and moved on with her life. Her second husband of close to twenty-five years, Hector J. Spencer, and Irene live now in Anchorage, Alaska.
Readers winding their way through Shattered Dreams are going to laugh, cry and shake their heads in amazement at this brave woman’s ability to cope, survive and find laughter in a world so very foreign to mainstream society.
Irene Spencer’s second book is Cult Insanity—the story of Ervil LeBaron, Verlan’s brother, who committed murder and caused a reign of terror on Mormon polygamy groups. His hit list included Irene.