Monday, September 20, 2010

Book Review: The Lonely Polygamist, by Brady Udall

I'm not one of the best reviewers or critics in the world, and I almost never make an effort to try to review something,  as it's not one of the things I'm compelled to try.  But I decided to give it a go, having just read this book .

I first learned about this book through the review in the San Francisco Chronicle at the end of June and sought the book out two months later.   I suspected I'd like the book and I was right.  

The lead character, Golden Richards,  is the husband to four wives and father to 28 children and is a building contractor for a failing construction business.  The only construction  job he's able to get is in Nevada, 200 miles from his Utah home, and it's a for a whorehouse (he lies and tells his family and church community that he's building a senior center).   The job keeps him away from home and his family for hours, even days; hence his loneliness.  While he's away at the construction site, he begins to fall for another woman and eventually has an affair with her.   He's grieved over the death of a daughter and a stillbirth of a son. With both his family and his business falling apart, he's having a midlife crisis.  We also learn a  little of his lonely, isolated childhood and how he was led into the polygamist lifestyle. 

The books also tells the viewpoint of Trish, the youngest of the four wives, who has brought her daughter from her previous marriage into the family and who suffers the stillbirth (she'd had two stillbirths during her prior marriage as well).  She too feels lonely in the crowded family. 
Another viewpoint presented is that of Golden's son Rusty, one of the children from the title character's third wife, Rose-of-Sharon. He's known as "the family terrorist" and is the only one of the children not living with his biological mother.  He becomes involved with a neighbor who builds bombs and is often kept from leaving the house by Beverly, the first wife, with whom Rusty is living.  He is desperate to see his biological mother.  Rusty, the least popular of the many children,  also feels lonely in the crowded family, and feels neglected by his father, whom he refers to as "Sasquatch."

Beverly is the one who runs the family, and Nola (wife #2) and Rose-of-Sharon run a hair salon. The family is spread apart over three different houses.   A family tree of all the wives and children is provided at the beginning of the book.   The story is set in the late 1970s, evidenced by references to the Bread (the band), the Captain and Tennille, "Disco Inferno,"  Postum and "Starsky and Hutch." 

The book is nearly 600 pages long and it took me over two weeks to finish, but it was worth that amount of time.   Having come home form a tiring day after buying the book, I was only able to read the first seven or eight pages that day before getting sleepy, but that was enough to get me hooked that first day.  Over the next two weeks, I read it pieces at time, when I had time to lie down.  This included being laid up with back pain on Memorial Day weekend when I alternated between reading the book and watching DVDs.

Not too many people I know have heard of this book.  Having mentioned it in my status on Facebook shortly after beginning to read the book, only one person commented asking what the book was about. One family member remarked that it sounded "intrinsically interesting," something that open to interpretation (I still don't know what that was supposed to mean).  A friend of the family remarked he had not heard of the book (I asked him in an email with the link to the book above), but that it sounds interesting. 

Overall it's a great read and I highly suggest anyone read it.  

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