The Lonely Polygamist (Review)

December 1, 2010

Book cover for "The Lonely Polygamist" by Brady Udall.Title: The Lonely Polygamist

Author: Brady Udall

Narrator: David Aaron Baker

Publication Year: 2010

Pages: 602 (audio length: 23 hours 10 minutes)

Genre: Fiction

Source: Purchased audiobook from Audible.com

From the cover:

Golden Richards, husband to four wives, father to twenty-eight children, is having the mother of all midlife crises. His construction business is failing, his family has grown into an overpopulated mini-dukedom beset with insurrection and rivalry, and he is done in with grief: due to the accidental death of a daughter and the stillbirth of a son, he has come to doubt the capacity of his own heart. Brady Udall, one of our finest American fiction writers, tells a tragicomic story of a deeply faithful man who, crippled by grief and the demands of work and family, becomes entangled in an affair that threatens to destroy his family’s future. Like John Irving and Richard Yates, Udall creates characters that engage us to the fullest as they grapple with the nature of need, love, and belonging.

Beautifully written, keenly observed, and ultimately redemptive, The Lonely Polygamist is an unforgettable story of an American family — with its inevitable dysfunctionality, heartbreak, and comedy — pushed to its outer limits.

This book is so intricate that the cover copy really doesn’t do it justice.

The Lonely Polygamist is alternately narrated by a variety of characters – Golden, Trish (his fourth wife), Rusty (one of his sons), and sometimes from an omniscient-style narrator. The latter is used mainly when filling in details from the past or – sometimes – when describing events where something important is about to happen, but multiple characters are involved. It’s not really set in stone, though – the narration simply flips around throughout the story, sometimes leaving the reader to wait a few pages before figuring out who is telling the story at present. It’s not confusing, though, for some reason; rather, it gives a certain sense of complexity to the novel that wouldn’t be there otherwise, and allows for the reader to see events from different perspectives.

There are so many layers to each of the characters that it really allows the reader to feel sympathy for them, even when you wouldn’t normally expect to. We feel sympathy for Golden, for example, even though a lot of readers might not normally understand his polygamist lifestyle. We feel sympathy for Trish even as we learn about her past indiscretions during a previous marriage. And last but not least, we feel sympathy for Rusty, the “bad boy” of the family, the kid who can’t ever seem to behave “appropriately”.

At some points in the story, I found myself frustrated with something one or more of the characters (often Golden or his first wife, Beverly) were doing; at others, I was almost laughing out loud with something that a character did, said, or thought (often Rusty). There were funny anecdotes and serious tragedies, all mixed in together, and that’s what made The Lonely Polygamist so engaging for me. It was the depth of the narrative and of the story that caught me.

Even if you normally wouldn’t want to read something about a Mormon family with multiple wives, I recommend that you get past your preconceived notions and try this book. It might not be what you normally find yourself interested in, but there’s just something about it that I think will really grab you!

Rating:

4 Comments

  • Amy December 1, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Hmm… I’ve read a few books about Mormonism and featuring Mormon characters but I really can’t decide on this one. I might have to give it a try though one of these days…

    • Carina December 1, 2010 at 5:26 pm

      I think you’d really like it, given that we have similar tastes. I wasn’t too sure about it when I decided to read it, and ultimately enjoyed it quite a bit.

  • iubookgirl December 2, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    I find polygamy fascinating, so I’ve been thinking about reading this. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it.

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