Monday, November 15, 2010

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall - 602 pgs


Book CoverGolden Richards is overwhelmed. Living his life as a polygamist Mormon, Golden has four wives, each of whom present him with different difficulties, and twenty-seven unruly children whose behavior closely resembles a tribe of lemmings. Golden, a shy and reserved man, is having trouble resigning himself to the life he has chosen to lead and finds himself leaning towards thoughts of an extramarital affair. But as can be expected, just when he arrives at a decision, his life quickly begins to spiral our of control. One of his wives is becoming increasingly distraught at the lack of attention he gives to her, while one begins to rule the roost with an iron fist. His eleven year old son Rusty is on a campaign of misbehavior and deviance that makes even the most seasoned of the mothers blush, and Golden finds himself secretly working as a contractor building a whorehouse. As Golden tries to navigate his crazy existence, he discovers that nothing is simple, easy or concise. As his family wiggles its way into more and more complicated situations, it will be up to Golden to herd them all into some semblance of order. Outrageous, hilarious and at times very sad, The Lonely Polygamist is a luminescent novel of startling clarity and wonderful originality.

I fell in love with this book from its very first pages. Golden and his family were just a hot mess to read about. From the warring factions of children wearing down the dining room carpet into a racetrack to Rusty's absconding with a box full of the other children's shoes during a showdown with one of his mothers, there was scarcely a bit of the text that was not imbued with something outrageous. Though the book was filled with all kinds of unlikely events, it never felt over the top or forced. Instead, Udall began building the crescendo of the plot into a towering and unpredictable story that filled the pages with deft humor and unexpected humbleness.

One of the things I liked most about this book was the way that Udall seemed to capture so many emotions so well in his story. There was humor, of course, but also despondency, sadness, humility, wonder and honesty. He manages to capture all the frailties of Golden's life with a clear and no-nonsense forthrightness. There isn't a lot of time spent in pointless cogitation, because frankly, a man with four wives and twenty-seven children just doesn't have that kind of time. Instead, Golden and his family soldier on, meeting the troubles of their lives head on. Before reading this book, I couldn't even begin to imagine what life as a polygamist Mormon would be like, but with Udall's colorful interpretation of Golden and his family, I quickly began to get the picture. All the aspects of plural marriage were described in such a way as to not only educate the reader, but to pull them into the lives of this unlikely tribe called a family.

Udall got full use and range out of his characters, penning them with ferocity and originality and leaving no room to wonder about their thoughts and motives. I think I liked Rusty the best. He was just a crazy little dude with imagination and hormones racing ahead at full speed. Every time I saw his story on the page, I knew I would just be wafted away in his tenacity and indignance, and his sections had me laughing out loud with astonishment and glee. I think everyone can relate to Rusty. Who can forget being eleven and being at the mercy of restrictive parents and cruel siblings? Rusty gets himself into a great many unlikely situations and always seems to handle himself with a certain forced composure that I relished. From his crush on one of the mothers to the incident with his older sister's underwear, Rusty is an undeniably original and wonderful creation.

Though the book is often funny, Udall does a great job dabbling with more serious emotions. As Golden struggles to find his way, he loses himself in the impossible sadness that his life has brought him. From the unexpected deaths of two of his children to the fruitless wishing for freedom, Golden has much more to worry about than his wild and extensive brood. I think that most people have a certain perception of polygamists but Golden doesn't fit that mold at all. He is self-disparaging, meek and wayward, clumsily leading his family along like a blind general. Golden is just as fallible as any man, but what's refreshing is his humbleness and modesty. He wants to be able to give his family his all, to give them sustenance and be their protection, but he finds himself stumbling under the load that he has accepted, fruitlessly losing all composure just when he needs it most.

I can't say how wonderful and enriching this book was. Not only did I find myself snorting with laughter, I also found myself teary-eyed with grief while reading it. Udall's book is filled with richness and complexity and has some of the most unforgettable characters I have ever come across. Do yourself a favor and pick up this wonderful novel, you'll be glad you did! A perfect light read.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

22 comments:

Amy said...

Your review makes the book sound interesting, but I did read another that made me think that Golden would just be too annoying for me. Did you find him hard to handle?

S. Krishna said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this one! It's been on my shelf for a long time and I'm hoping to get to it soon.

Literary Feline said...

This has been on my radar since I read an interview with the author. I've since read several reviews, mostly positive that make it very tempting. I am glad you enjoyed it so much, Heather. I think this one's finally earned a place on my wish list.

TheBookGirl said...

Oh Heather I LOVED this one too!!
It was one of the first books I reviewed on my blog, and it tops my list for my favorite book of the year.
I never expected to like it as much as I did, but it pulled me in from the get go and never let me down. I am still haunted by the image of the boy at the window.

Zibilee said...

Amy,
Golden can be a waffler, which is one thing that will probably annoy some people. He tends to be wishy-washy when it comes to managing his life, and often lets things get out of control instead of dealing with them head-on. I didn't find him annoying, but I did find him to be clueless a lot of the time. But in my opinion, Rusty was the one to watch in this story. If you do decide to read this one, Rusty is the character who I think that you will end up loving.

Amy said...

Thank you ma'am, good to know!

Amy said...

This book sounds riveting! It's one of those books that catches my eye at the book store but I've never paid a lot of attention to. Now I wish I had but fortunately it's not too late.

I really enjoyed your review. I enjoy well-developed, interesting characters whether likable or not so I think I'm going to put this one high on my list!

~ Amy

Steph said...

When this book first came out, I wasn't sure what to make of it. It sounded like it was trying to rip off the current polygamy trend (see Big Love and "The 19th Wife), and I wasn't sure how it could do anything new with the topic. But lately I've been reading good reviews about it, namely about how funny it is, and that makes me think I may have been too quick to dismiss it. Plus, you know how I love "hot mess" families in my books... ;)

Suko said...

Great review, Zibilee!

One marriage/family seems difficult enough, but four? That seems impossible! However, you would think a man with four wives would not seek an extra marital affair as well, although perhaps that symbolized "freedom" to him in a way, an escape from all people and demands of his life (at least until the point that all spiraled out of control).

bermudaonion said...

Someone with 4 wives was contemplating an affair? Talk about a glutton for punishment! This book sounds so good - thanks for passing it on to me. I could tell you picked up on my fascination with polygamy.

Jenners said...

"A hot mess" sounds about right. You've made me want to read this book ... like right now. It sounds unique and interesting and offbeat. Great review!

Trisha said...

What a great review! Loved it. I really enjoy books about polygamy for some reason; I'm very conflicted about it as a practice...

Nymeth said...

Okay, your lemmings analogy kind of made me laugh. Am I a horrible person? :P I'm glad to hear you enjoyed this, and that it does a good job of combining humour with a more serious side.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I like the idea of a book that can make me snort with laughter, and then later cry with sadness -- this sounds fantastic. Excellent insight and thoughts to this one!

Marie said...

Wow, what a review! I'm glad you liked this so much. I've been eyeing it at the bookstore for a long time.

Jenny said...

You are always making me reconsider books I had written off! This didn't sound like it would appeal to me at all initially, but "warring factions of children" is slightly changing my mind. I'm still not convinced I'm going to feel sympathetic to this protagonist, but I'm at least going to try the book.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I thought this book would just be plain silly, but your review makes me want to experience it for myself. I am thinking the audio version might be great as well.

nomadreader (Carrie) said...

I bought this for my Kindle when it came out, but I still haven't started it. Why must chunksters taunt me even in ebook form? I'm so glad you loved it, and I hope to squeeze it in soon!

Erin said...

Every review of this I read highlights a different aspect that the reviewer enjoyed. Overall, I think it sounds like a really interesting book and one that deserves its spot on my TBR list!

Lisa said...

I've seen this one around but I don't think I've read a word about it. Something about it just did not appeal to me. Thanks for the great review--you've sold me on this one!

Vasilly said...

What a great review review! I've just placed this on hold at my library.

Aarti said...

Ooh, I'm glad to see your review of this book! I think your excitement for it really came out here :-) I am very, very excited that I have it on my shelf!

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