review · U.S.

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

W.W. Norton
Publication date:2010
Source: library
The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall is a specific type of family saga:  it’s the story of middle-aged Golden Richards, his four wives, and his numerous children as he’s going through a mid-life crisis.  I had my doubts along the way because stories about a man’s mid-life crisis are not stories I seek out, but in the end, the pace picked up and I became invested in these frustrating characters.
The set-up for the story is the first draw.  I’ve watched some of the seasons of the HBO show Big Love (and again, I’m not a fan of the polygamist husband and his mid-life crisis), and I’ve watched some news specials about polygamists.  The draw is figuring out how a family with so many people and living in so many houses works.
The actual plot of The Lonely Polygamist involves Golden living away from his family when he works as a general contractor on the expansion of a brothel in Nevada.  It involves his marital crisis (he becomes involved with another woman during the long stretches he’s away from home). The other main stories involve his fourth wife Trish, who is grieving the loss of her stillborn son Jack, and his twelve-year-old son Rusty, who clashes with his non-biological mother Beverly as well as his siblings.  Udall captures the polygamist experience from the point of view of the husband, one of the wives, and one of the overlooked children.
I think it’s most interesting to look at this book as a study of how lonely everyone in a polygamist household can be.  Being overlooked is unavoidable in a brood so large, especially if the parents are working away from home.  This book has the added layer of the story of Trish and Golden’s grief at the children they’ve lost.  Grieving, or not grieving, more accurately ,led to more estrangement between Golden and the rest of his family.  The grief sections of the book are very strong and very affecting.
There were a couple drawbacks to the story:  first, the character of Golden, and second all the female characters.  First, I didn’t particularly like or feel sorry for Golden, as sad as his upbringing and his emotional stuntedness made him.  I think it’s a case of the underdog being such a sad sack that I didn’t root for him.  He was frustrating because he was so naïve about the feelings of those closest to him as well as so naïve about what he himself was feeling.  Second, there is the problem of the female characters. Huila, Golden’s extra-marital love interest, is a very idealized character.  We don’t spend that much time with three out of the four of Golden’s wives for them to be fleshed-out people:  they are suffering, overburdened wives who spend all of their time caring for the rest of the family.  That said, Udall does do a good job with the characters of Trish and Rusty. It’s an interesting premise for a book with a couple characters that drew me in.
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One thought on “The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

  1. “Anonymous March 2, 2012 at 8:55 AM
    Glad you reviewed this as I was curious about it. I was a big fan of the HBO series, BIG LOVE. First season only, I kind of didn’t care about the rest. I was just curious about the polygamy lifestyle which turned out to be some in-fighting among the wives, debt and living a secret life among others… —Keishon

    Reply

    RebeccaK March 2, 2012 at 2:00 PM
    I only watched the first couple seasons of BIG LOVE as well, but this book felt very different. For one, they family in the book lives in a polygamist town instead of trying to hide it in the show.

    Reply

    JoanneM arch 3, 2012 at 5:27 PM
    I enjoyed the first series of Big Love.
    The book sounds interesting but I’m not sure if I’d want to read it. I’d be interested to know the background of the author first before tackling such a project.
    Great analysis of the novel, btw.

    Reply
    Replies

    Rebecca KMarch 4, 2012 at 12:58 PM
    Thanks, Joanne. I found this interesting interview with Udall, and yes, he comes from a Mormon family with polygamist ancestors: http://www.bookslut.com/features/2010_06_016202.php.

    Reply

    Danmark April 18, 2012 at 10:51 AM
    I am fascinated by the subject of polygamy and what kind of people got involved in this type of life. I have polygamist in my family line back a few generations.
    I loved this book. I didn’t know what to expect, but once I started it, I couldn’t put it down. The characters are hillarious, sad, interesting, and really damaged in a lot of ways. I wish I knew these people. A strange bunch living a life that I can’t even imagine…yet I was mesmerized. I liked the bit of history about nuclear testing in Nevada and the ramifications it brought to the people of that area. It is obvious that Mr. Udall has a great knowledge of that area of the country…because he describes it perfectly.

    Reply
    Replies

    RebeccaK April 18, 2012 at 6:22 PM
    I couldn’t abandon this one either, though some parts felt slow to me because Golden wasn’t my favorite character in the bunch.”

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