PUBLISHED: 4:42 PM on Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Woman recalls polygamist life in memoir
In a time when some 50 percent of marriages end in divorce and a surprising number of people remarry, it's not at all rare to be introduced to someone's "second wife" or "first husband."

But what if you were the second wife and your spouse was still very married to the first one?

And to the third.

And the fourth.

And number seven was waiting in the future.

In the new book "Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist's Wife" by Irene Spencer, you'll read about one woman's years as the second of 10 wives and the agony she endured in a plural marriage, both physically and mentally.

As a the thirteenth of 31 children born to a fundamentalist Mormon family, Irene Kunz knew the heartbreak that came with being one of many wives. Her own mother, a second wife, left Irene's father and chose monogamy when Irene was not quite a teenager. Irene knew the poverty that often resulted when a man tried to support many households and dozens of children. She knew all about the secrecy that was necessary because of the illegality of plural marriage. She was fully aware of the jealousy and anger harbored by some wives in polygamist unions.

So why then did 16-year-old Irene eschew a man she loved in favor of life in a dirt house in Mexico, second wife of a man she barely knew? She had been taught and believed that it was the only way to celestial glory. By supporting her husband, her sister-wives, and their many children, she would become a goddess.

But for a lively woman who loved music, being another of what would eventually be 10 wives was a crushing existence. Work at the Mexican compound was onerous and never-ending. Irene's husband was gone often.

When he was home, his time was divided between his many families. He ignored Irene's needs and made a lot of promises he couldn't or wouldn't keep. Irene was pregnant nearly constantly, eventually giving birth to 13 children.

But leaving her husband, Verlan, wasn't much of an option. According to church edicts, he could keep their children and belongings. Irene could leave with only the clothes on her back.

Broken, saddened, and feeling alone, she sought help. Could anything repair her crushed spirit?

Filled with despair, anger, love, and triumph, author Irene Spencer said that many books about polygamy don't "acknowledge how terrible it was for everyone to live it." Spencer, who now lives in Alaska, does so - loud and clear - in this brave, incredible, blunt and engrossing true story.

I laughed ("Imagine, not having a decent thing to wear to my own husband's wedding!"), I gasped as Spencer calmly tells of the murderous intentions of a rival fundamentalist, and I loved reading about where her family is now.

I've heard that the reason to read a memoir is to learn about a life you didn't choose. If that's the case, then this is a memoir to choose.

"Shattered Dreams" is a smashing book, and should be first on your fall reading list.