In The Lonely Polygamist, we meet Golden Richards, a man with four wives and the father to twenty-eight children. Unfortunately, he is also having the mother of all midlife crises. First off, his construction business failing, and then adding on that his family has grown into an overpopulated kingdom, one that is coming apart at the seams, with sibling rivalry haunting every corner and with the faint air of insurrection ready to boil over like a volcano, Golden still feels the loss of two of his children, the accidental death of a daughter and the stillbirth of a son. And he has begun to feel the doubt of his heart. So when he takes a construction job 200 miles from home (building a brothel none the less) to figure out just what he should do, Golden finds redemption of sorts with the common law wife of the man who hired him.
Author Udall, himself from a large Mormon family in Arizona, does not seem to have a real opinion on polygamy itself, though through 11 year-old Rusty, the “family terrorist” and the only child given individual thought, he paints a vivid picture of what polygamy does to the children. Through Rusty’s interior monologue, we learn how painful this life can be on a child who can’t fully understand why he can never be the center of attention, even on his “special day,” his birthday.
The novel is often outright funny, and reminded me much of John Irving –which, as I read up on Udall, he is often compared too – with the goofy, often off center hero, wrapped up in events beyond his control. Still, Golden is aware of his faults, but appears either unwilling or (probably) incapable of solving his problems, because in the end, he was never taught how to solve them.
The book is a rare gem and I highly recommend it.