The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

Aug 22nd, 2010 in Books

We just finished The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall.  In Udall’s latest book we find Golden Richards, polygamist husband to four wives and father to a scant twenty-eight children.  We were not surprised, then, to read that Golden is in the throes of a major midlife crisis.  His construction business is falling down all around him (though the book is not set in current times, but a couple of decades ago), and his family and wives are extremely demanding and needy, and are embroiled in various internecine battles (there’s  a shocker).   Add to this milieu Golden’s grand canyons of grief for the loss of two beloved children and you’ve got the recipe for an alternately elegiac and surprisingly humorous novel that provides a unique vantage into the Mormon fundamentalist life (we don’t get HBO, so did not catch the Big Love series).

We enjoyed Udall’s ability to humorously depict the polygamist regimen, and to rightly question many of the tenets thereof, but without undermining the effort with undue derision and finger-pointing.  His is not a hateful, one-dimensional  screed, but instead an insightful, fair sketch of the pains and joys of the polygamist life (and, ultimately, our modern lives).  Udall thankfully employs a more graceful approach (though never failing to expose some of the ridiculous underpinnings and irrationalia on which the faith and lifestyle is based).

We were drawn in to the book because of its potential to explore many of the concerns of our current times and relationships with spouses and children, only amplified by the polygamist setting.  In this, in particular, Udall has delivered in spades.  At times we were concerned that the book would devolve into a Hiaasen-esque series of environmental/development-related pratfalls, but instead Udall uses Golden Richards’ polygamist predicament to illumine how we can possibly increase our storerooms of love and be more present in a life that demands more and more of each of us, each day.  While we were somewhat repulsed initially by the subject matter, ultimately Udall deftly maneuvers us to see the capacities we hold, even in the most challenging of circumstances.

This is a great read and very well written (Udall is at his best as a wordsmith in the italicized sections of the book).

Highly recommended.

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