Monday, July 5, 2010

Book eighteen: The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

Brady Udall's The Lonely Polygamist is a story about a middle-aged polygamist who's struggling with life. And why shouldn't he, with four wives, three households, and so many kids he has to chant their names to remember them.  In an attempt to make ends meet, he's also taken a construction job building a brothel in a remote Nevada town, where he falls for the brothel owner's wife. 
There are moments in The Lonely Polygamist that are brilliant for their succinctness; for their ability to take disparate story lines and distill them into one sharp statement that both resolves and drives forward the plot.  Like the moment when  the polygamist, Golden Richards realizes, "He was a man with a crush on a prostitute, a condom in his wallet, and gum in his pubic hair-what could it all mean?" In that line, three unexpected stories converge and resolve. At the same time, the statement seems to launch new stories, pulling the reader into the book.
Udall is brilliant at writing characters.  I loved Rusty, Golden's 11-year-old son who just can't keep out of trouble; he's one of the best written characters I've read in a long time.  And when paired with June, a once-exiled polygamist boy who is now grown and building his own bunker, the story takes a brilliant turn that is both humorous and tragic.
This book also serves up interesting literary themes.  Take windows.  There are several moments in the book where characters interact with windows.  And those windows ask the characters to balance the potential of where they want to be with being trapped or held back. Those elements made the story more personal. Maybe that's what I liked most about this book: its ability to weave stories into a tale that somehow makes polygamy relevant to my life and the choices I make. At 600 pages this is a big book.  But don't be afraid of the length because it never feels long.  I was sad when it ended.


  1. I think the fact it sparked a lot of discussion at book club was a sign of its quality.

  2. I may have to lift my bias against polygamy books. Characters sound absolutely ripe.