Review: Torn by God

I have wanted to read Torn by God: a Family’s Struggle with Polygamy for a long time. The author, Zoe Murdock sent me a copy of her book in the spring and due to over-committing myself to some projects it has taken me a while to get to.

This is the story a family in a state of chaos, the husband has a vision and begins a journey to explore the original laws of the Mormon faith, specifically polygamy. Post vision he wrestles with the idea that polygamy should still be legal and he is trying to decide if his family should join Brother Reuben’s sect. While he makes some decisions the family deals with several roadblocks along the way.

From the authors website: ...I try to achieve a high level of psychological realism, moving into the mental space of my characters, and settling in for the duration. Maintaining this kind or realism can be difficult at times. For example, when I was writing from the mind of my 12-year-old narrator in Torn by God, there were things I wanted to say that I couldn't say and still maintain the child's perspective. Still, I felt the innocence of the child narrator was important because it was indicative of the innocence of all the characters in the story. They are all controlled by the voice of their parents, by the voice of their religious leaders, by the voice of their God. So I let the girl see what she could see and let the deeper meaning lie beneath the surface, in the subtext where it belongs. It is there for my readers to find, if they can.

This is an intriguing story, a story that has stayed with me. I don’t know much about the Mormon faith and I often put my book down to share some newly learned facts about the Mormon religion with my husband. It was interesting to read this story from the daughters eyes, the author was able to leave me wondering and searching for answers as a mother. I kept thinking of how I would deal with a situation and then I would remind myself this is a twelve year olds story taking place in 1959. Life was much simpler in 1959, for everyone.

There is a lot to discuss, family illness, community, marriage and survival are just a few discussion worthy topics in this book. I enjoyed this book and recommend for book clubs.
Interesting links:- Click here to read a good author interview, along with an online dialog (post interview)
- Click here to read a fascinating article, review, and debate
- Click here to read Zoe’s blog

Author Q&A:Tell us a little about yourself: I grew up in a small Mormon town in Utah, the middle child of eleven. The rural environment was a wonderful place to explore, but I felt cramped philosophically. It took me a few years after high school to find my way to the university, but once there, my mind opened up to the world. I designed my own course of study focusing on human cognition, and set about trying to discover the effect that specialized language and concepts have on perception. I have been intrigued with human perception ever since, particularly the way in which belief systems affect perception. Most of my writing has to do with that issue, on one level or another. In my recently published novel, “Torn by God: A Family’s Struggle with Polygamy,” I examine the way in which a father’s belief in the original Mormon doctrine of polygamy brings about the destruction of his family. The story takes place in my little hometown and is based on real events that happened to my family when I was a child.

I finished my B.A. and got most of the way through a master’s in Creative Writing, when the personal computer arrived on the scene. I saw a need for writers and started EZ Technology, Inc., a technical documentation company that produced books for some of the largest computer companies in the world. After that, I returned to the university and picked up two more degrees, an M.A. in Instructional Technology and Multimedia, and an M.S. in Sports Medicine (I knew a lot of master runners at the time who were always getting injured and I wanted to see if I could help them).

For the past 10 years, I have been writing fiction full-time and teaching an advanced weekly fiction writing workshop in California.

Do you write daily? Yes, I do write daily. In fact, I write for most of the day, when I’m not out promoting “Torn by God.” I love to write and wish there were more hours in the day to do it.

What was it like getting your first novel published? Getting novels published these days is a struggle. Many New York agents and publishers were interested in my novel, but thy wanted me to change it to make it more appealing to the mass market. For that reason, I eventually decided to let an LA independent publisher, that I had been involved with in the past, bring it out.

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? I think electronic books are the books of the future. Sure, there will be printed books, but I think more and more people will be reading on devices such as the Kindle. I agree with many others that the entire publishing industry is in a state of flux. Although publishers will most likely continue to print large first runs for books written by their top writers, I think that print on demand is the direction everyone is going. Why waste money printing books that will never be sold, when you can print them on-demand? Hopefully, when the dust settles, there will be an opportunity for many more authors to be published than is currently possible. Print on demand also makes it possible for authors to publish their own books; readers can decide for themselves if there is something of value in the work. It will be very interesting to look back in a few years to see what the new world of book publishing looks like.

What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers? The most important advice I can give a writer is to join a writing group. And if you can find one, join a group that gives you feedback on technical issues, rather than just telling you how great your writing is. We all need moral support, but more than that, we need a group of people who can help us see what we’ve written. It is very easy to think you’ve succeeded in getting what you intended down on paper, when really it is mostly in your own head. Some people are nervous about writing groups that give real feedback, but if you learn how to listen and consider what other writers are telling you, your writing will be much better.

One more bit of important advice is to never think you’ve finished your book when you finish the first draft. As my husband, Doc, always says, “You never know what your story is about until you’ve finished writing it.” Then you have to go back and rewrite it again and again. Each draft will teach you something new about your story, and this new information will help you refine your story. You’ll know when it’s time to publish it.

What are you reading now? I tend to read fiction with a strong protagonist voice. Books like, “The Book of Ruth,” by Jane Hamilton, “Angela’s Ashes,” by Frank McCourt “Because It is Bitter and Because It Is My Heart,” by Joyce Carol Oates, and “Bastard Out of Carolina,” by Dorothy Allison. I’m presently reading Margaret Atwood’s, “The Blind Assassin.”

Lastly, share one or two of your all time favorite novels read, excluding classics: I love “Memoirs of a Survivor,” and “The Diaries of Jane Somers,” by Doris Lessing and “An Imaginary Life,” by David Malouf.

Just for fun:Favorite Season: Autumn - especially if I’m some place with extraordinary autumn foliage. Spring is nice, too. And Winter, after a snow storm, when the sun comes out and the sky is crystal blue and everything sparkles.

Morning or night: Night, when the world is quiet and I finally have time to think.

Favorite ice cream flavor: I don’t eat much ice cream these days, but as a kid I liked a double cone from Snellgroves with raspberry ripple and Rocky Road. Alas, Snellgroves no longer exists. Today, I’d be more likely to get something mocha-ish.

If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go: I love Asia and have traveled to Japan, Thailand, Korea, and Hong Kong. I would love to go to Greece and India and Europe and . . . most any place. Traveling is a wonderful psychic and sensory experience. I would love to see what human consciousness has conceived in all corners of the world.

Type: Fiction, 300 pages, Trade paperback

Synopsis:Inspired by true events, Torn by God is a riveting family drama that takes place in 1959 in a small Mormon town in Utah. It chronicles the devastation brought upon the Sterling family when the father has a vision which leads him to become involved with a local polygamist group run by a self-serving fundamentalist named Brother Reuben. Under the influence of this group, the father comes to believe that the Mormon Church never should have rescinded polygamy. He knows that the practice is against the law and grounds for excommunication, but he feels it is something God demands of him. Twelve-year-old Beth watches helplessly as her father becomes increasingly involved with the polygamists and her mother sinks into depression and illness. Even Beth is not safe from Brother Reuben with his piercing eyes and suggestive sexual remarks. When her father leaves home to build a church for the polygamists, the family is cast off by the Mormon community. It is up to Beth to take care of her sick mother and her little brother, Mikey. This story delves deep into the controversial association between mainstream Mormons and fundamentalist off-shoot groups such as those led by Warren Jeffs.


The book is hard to put down once you start reading it. At once chilling and informative, it exposes the destructive power of fundamentalist religious indoctrination and control. This novel is sure to spark lively discussions, and maybe more than a little controversy. - From