The Lonely Polygamist

Feeling a little pressed for time?  Overwhelmed with everyone and everything in your life?  Although it may seem like an oxymoron,   Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist has a schedule you couldn’t imagine.

With 4 wives and 28 children,you might think Golden Richards has enough to keep him busy, but family life in the Old House, the Big House, and the condo, sometimes gets a little too crowded; he gets a respite fantasizing about Huila, his boss’s wife –  while still trying to keep up his marital schedule.  This may sound like one big orgy –

But the story focuses more on the trials of a polygamist family, the misplaced allegiance to a disavowed Mormon practice, the politics among the plural wives, and the inconsistencies in the welfare of the children.  Udall inserts comic relief into the overwhelmed family with a dog forced to wear underwear, wives who manage a hair salon better than their children, and the procreator who remembers his children’s name by singing a mantra, and tells his wives he is building a senior center that is really a brothel.

Golden is just a weak man, after all,  with a sad upbringing and neglectful parents, now overwhelmed with more responsibility than he wants.  He needs a break – from his wives, from his religion, from his life. Nevertheless, it’s impossible to feel any sympathy for him, and the wives seem more like irritated corporate vice presidents vying for time with the CEO than religious matrons.

The true hero is Rusty, the 11 year-old rebel son, whose mother, Rose – wife #3, has a nervous breakdown from all the confusion. Rusty acts out his own fantasies of fleeing far from the madding crowd – trying to get his father’s attention, his mother’s sympathy – even imagining a life alone with 28 year-old wife #4.  His life is irrefutably damaged and doomed, but he does not give up.  On his 12th birthday, he barricades himself inside the house – locking all the doors and windows while the entire family is outside partying – no one notices for awhile and you can’t help cheer for his brief respite.

…just a mixed-up boy wanting a little attention…

Although Rusty’s feisty spirit sets him apart from the others, the author comments in an interview about the character – “I think it’s the children who suffer most in these situations. In such a crowd, it’s easy to get lost…”

Motivated by his own family history – Udall’s great-great grandfather was a polygamist, with his second wife Udall’s great-great grandmother – he did research with current plural family groups and commented in an interview…

In the time I spent with different polygamist families, I saw extreme differences in family dynamics and culture. Because of the size of some of the families I often felt like an anthropologist studying a tribe with its own unique politics and hierarchies and mores.

And, yes, he is distantly related to all those Udall politicians.

With a mix of irony and dismay, Udall manages to draw you in as a voyeur to this dysfunctional group – while trying to make the case that they are just regular people.   They think so, anyway.