three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
47-July-Aug-2010
By: 
Brady Udall
user_rating: 
0

A-The Lonely Polygamist.epsBrady Udall is the author of Letting Loose the Hounds (1997) and the internationally best-selling The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint (2001). He is an instructor in the MFA program at Boise State University.

The Story: In his latest novel, Udall explores the unique and often lonely family dynamics within a polygamous household. At first glance, Golden Richards seems to have it all. And then some. The sweet-natured, middle-aged Utah resident has three homes, four wives, 28 children, and a construction business. But beneath the surface, Golden's life is a disaster. He's frequently overwhelmed by the demands of his family and the obligations to his church. And his business is flailing, forcing him to secretly take on a lucrative brothel-building job to stave off bankruptcy. On the home front, Golden's younger wives struggle under the iron rule of Beverly, his superefficient first wife.
Norton. 572 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780393062625

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"[E]ntertaining and at times very moving. ... One of the deepest pleasures of The Lonely Polygamist is Udall's skill in imagining the family dynamics and power politics that complicate life in a polygamous household." Troy Jollimore

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"The Lonely Polygamist begins wickedly funny, then grows sad and bittersweet and tragic and even slapstick. My only disappointment is it ends too quickly." Susan Ager

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"The Lonely Polygamist is an absorbing, moving, entertaining novel that will transport the reader into Golden's chaotic world, making most other lives seem calm by comparison. ... In this novel, Udall gives polygamy the benefit of the doubt." Jenny Shank

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"It is funny, it can be moving, it is ambitious and it is tender about man's endless absurdities and failings--but does it have anything new to say about 21st-century American life? ... Udall has struck on something significant: By avoiding questions of contemporary relevance, he can highlight the very normalcy, at least in theory, of a culturally alien and abhorrent practice." Eric Weinberger

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"It's the baldest reviewer's cliché, but Udall truly does make this unusual situation feel quite normal. He makes you identify with everyone, and much to your surprise, sympathize with and even root for his protagonist." David Loftus

Boston Globe 1 of 5 Stars
"Somehow, against reasonable expectations given the plot outline, Brady Udall has produced a novel about a giant of a man with four wives and 28 children that's devoid of passion, rudderless, and utterly lacking in surprise. ... Richards is an annoying, lackluster creation, a total dud as both hero and antihero." Jay Atkinson

Critical Summary

With great humor and empathy, Brady Udall shows that, for the most part, polygamous families are just like the rest of us. Most critics were charmed by this quirky family drama, noting that the "larger effect of The Lonely Polygamist is perhaps to remind us that marriage, in any of its forms and manifestations, is inevitably an extraordinary thing" (Chicago Tribune). One very notable exception came from the Boston Globe critic, who found the story excruciating, the prose too workmanlike, and Golden "a shambling doofus." Hopefully, most readers will share the other critics' pleasure.