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Posted: February 16, 2021

A clear and compelling memoir

Book Review

By Anne Jardine

BALANCING BOUNTIFUL by Mary Jayne Blackmore

Mary Jayne Blackmore grew up in rural Creston in a farming community. She is the fifth child of Fundamentalist Mormon leader Winston Blackmore’s 137 children, born to Jane, the first of his 25 wives.

This book is an account of Mary Jayne’s life so far, an attempt to make sense of her experiences, and understand the complex forces that have influenced her search for identity. As a little girl, growing up in a big, noisy, hard- working family, she is expected to be obedient, industrious, responsible, respectful. She loves farm life, animals, and the beautiful landscape of the Creston Valley.

She loves and admires her parents, who serve as leaders and role models in the community. Though her ideas and beliefs change as she gains awareness, Mary Jayne’s love remains a bedrock constant. She tries earnestly not to judge or condemn her father even as she grows to disagree with his choices. Winston Blackmore’s court battles and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms become a central part of this story through Mary Jayne’s formative years.

As a young bride in an arranged marriage, she finds life too confining, and decides to educate herself beyond the Grade 10 limits of her local school. She finishes high school by distance ed and goes on to college and university to earn a teacher’s degree, graduating as valedictorian.

She decides that her marriage is too confining, so she separates from her husband after 11 years and co-parents her two children while managing her farm. She takes up a position as teacher in the Bountiful independent school and works hard to win it Dogwood accreditation status under the B.C. Ministry of Education.

She rejects the strict patriarchal Mormon doctrines of her father and uncles. On vacations from school, she travels the world on a spiritual quest to find god on her own terms. She develops her feminist ideas even as she remains loyal to her polygamist mothers and sisters. Mary Jayne’s thought process evolves through the years as her experience widens, but her loving connection to her land and her people always carries her home.

This is a book about a distinct culture seen from the perspective of a unique individual.

The characters of Winston and Jane Blackmore are strongly and lovingly drawn. Their family traditions are richly described. The bitter conflict within the Fundamentalist Mormon hierarchy ravages relationships and bewilders the children of the community. The criminalization of polygamy and resulting court cases disrupt the peace of Winston’s entire extended clan, and threaten to tear Bountiful to shreds, but so do the effects of modern media and consumer culture.

Mary Jayne’s style is clear and compelling, and her title truly defines her task in writing this memoir. It’s not an easy balance, but it is, in a way, her life’s work.


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