30 August 2011

Books: The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall (2010)

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.

1 comment:

Espana said...

The Lonely Polygamist was certainly based on an interesting premise, with strong writing throughout and vivid settings. However, the novel would have been greatly improved with (1) serious editing, and (2) a main character who had some likeable features. Golden (the names in general seemed contrived) drifted along feeling sorry for himself but not doing anything proactive to improve his life or the lives of those he supposedly loved. He generally reacted to whatever happened to him with very little thought. The man couldn't even figure out how to get gum from hair--until the author decided when the obvious solution would serve the plot, that is, and after seemingly endless scenes that stopped being funny early on. For me, it was a trial to spend so much time with a frustratingly weak-minded/weak kneeded character and I couldn't figure out why the women he knew would want to spend time with him, either. Why did they care if he didn't show up for their "night"?