All I need to be entertained are cats within ear-scratching distance and a good book . . .OK, maybe that's not ALL I need, but it's a good start.

I love to read. And I love to get recommendations for books to read.

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Happy reading!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Lonely Polygamist, by Brady Udall

The Lonely Polygamist is a rich, enjoyable novel written by Brady Udall. Udall doesn't attempt to address the real-life tragedies of polygamy, choosing instead to take a humorous and bittersweet approach to the fictional story of Golden Richards, husband to four women and father of twenty-eight children.

Golden is a sympathetic character. He was raised alone by a depressed and emotionally absent mother. After reuniting with his father, Golden finds religion in the form of a fundamentalist Mormon sect and marries his first wife, Beverly. The demands of his growing family result in a schedule, created by his wives, which determines when and where he spends his time. There's the Old House with one wife and her children, The Big House, with two wives and their children, and a condo across town with his newest wife and her daughter. In addition to the demands of attention from the wives, there are the demands of running three households and meeting obligations for 28 children: band concerts, school meetings, doctors' appointments, and so on. His construction business supports them all, and a recent job building a brothel keeps him away from home much of the week while creating an ironic moral dilemma.

Udall describes a typical scene in this passage describing a family meeting with the wives:

Mother #2 gives the Father a smart slap on the shoulder, which startles him out of his trance. The wives are all looking at him, wanting his input. He lets his attention wander a few seconds and suddenly they are terribly interested in him, in what he has to say. He rubs his eyes and asks them to repeat the question, he didn't hear it clearly as he would have liked. Mother #4 gives him a look and Mother #2 puts her two index fingers behind her head like donkey ears, a secret sign the Mothers have been using for years to indicate when the Father is being a Jackass.

Mother #1 asks the Father what's wrong and he shrugs, and when Mother #2 asks him why he is moping he says he is not moping, which is what people who are moping tend to say. He glances down at the agenda, hoping to come up with a pertinent comment, when, in answer to a prayer he had not yet found the courage to offer, the phone rings. It is Sister Barbara, bless her soul, informing him there is a problem with one of his rental houses, a real emergency.

Golden's wives negotiate with each other to change his schedule to accommodate theirs and their children's needs. Udall does an admirable job describing the interplay of the wives, their weariness or good humor, their requirement to share their husband, and their own unmet personal needs. A couple of the children are described in more detail in the book than the others, including Rusty, a Huck Finn type whom readers easily become attached to.

Golden's job away from home gives him respite from his domestic responsibilities. While on the job in Nevada, Golden seeks the company of another woman who happens to be married to his boss. Golden's boss is not a man who takes treachery kindly, is mercurial on good days and on bad days terrifying. Udall unravels this deceit over the pages of the book, with Golden emerging from the conflict with a new determination.

Interwoven into the book's story is the impact of nuclear testing in the 1950s, when Udall's characters were exposed to fallout and suffer the consequences. Udall's unnerving description of the bomb tests and his characters' relatively casual reaction to their exposure was disconcerting. The author provides a list of references describing nuclear bomb tests and the results in his acknowledgements.

The Lonely Polygamist is an entertaining book, pricks the conscience at appropriate times, and brings to life cultures we aren't a part of. Although it is fiction, further study can provide a more serious look at the book's main themes. For example, for more about the victims of polygamy, consider Stolen Innocence, by Elissa Wall, Escape by Carolyn Jessop, or Favorite Wife, by Susan Schmidt. Udall references Dorothy Allred Solomon's book, Daughter of the Saints, as "the best account of polygamy ever written."

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