12 Nov 2012

"The Lonely Polygamist" by Barry Udall

Sometimes a man wants to come to home from a hard day's work to a little peace and quiet. I imagine. Golden Richards does not have that luxury, ever. With three households, four wives and a large number of children, peace is a highly rated commodity last seen three marriages and a large number of children ago. Mayhem, chaos, screaming and living room races are the order of the day, yet in the midst of all of this life, Golden Richards is a lonely man. A lonely polygamist. 

If you have read "The 19th Wife" by David Ebershoff or "The Chosen One" by Carol Lynch Williams you might have a pretty bad perception of polygamists and mormons. And polygamist mormons. If you want a different take on things, you need to read "The Lonely Polygamist" by Barry Udall where the focus is not on the children of polygamist families as in the two other books but on the husband, the one who is often blamed as the bad guy. 

There is nothing bad about Golden. Nothing at all. He is a good, lovely, loveable man but he is also completely incompetent when it comes to decision-making. As the captain of the family, he is useless. Thankfully he has four wives to lean one, although they all wish that he would lean a little less and lead a little more... But seeing as he doesn't, they run the family, deciding how, what, when and where at the weekly Summit of the Wives. If it wasn't for the fact that it is Golden's construction company that brings in the money to fund food and soon to be hand-me-down clothes for the many children, they would do just fine without him. And most of the time they have to because Golden's business means that he has to drive far to work on projects - to their knowledge, he is building a care home for the elderly in the Nevada desert. In reality he is building a brothel. And this is just one of the many worries, that Golden struggles with and that make him so terribly lonely. 

Golden has a constant feeling that he is not doing well enough. He is struggling to finance the lifestyle with the three households and the many many children, he is struggling to live up to the expectations from the church's Elders, he is struggling to get along with his manager, he is struggling not to lust after his manager's wife and he is struggling to reconcile with his past. His life is a house of cards and a tornado is fast approaching. 
So caught up is he in his own trouble that he doesn't notice that of others. His wife Rose-of-Sharon is growing more and more depressed, their son Rusty is being swept away in a current of hormones and his difficulties finding his feet as a teenager is being interpreted as lack of good behaviour. Trish, the most recent wife, is finding it hard to adjust to life as a fourth wife and having to share her husband with other women. The tension builds and builds around the hapless Golden who entirely fails to notice anything but his own troubles. 

It is a stunning book. I read and read and ready and couldn't stop - I was entirely caught up in the lives of the people in this polygamist family. Trish really struck a chord with me as she beat her doubts and emotions into submission to give herself room to live up to expectations.

The way that Udall portrays the polygamist lifestyle somewhat underplays the difficulties and frustrations that it holds and it does come across as slightly more idyllic than I imagine it really is. This is forgivable though because it is necessary to tell the story. It is a love story but it is not about falling in love, it is not about loving because of - it is about loving despite!
It is a about the love not between a man and a woman but the love that binds a family together even though they don't necessarily agree. And as such it is beautiful and enjoyable. As such it also has a strong message: that the love portrayed in countless romantic movies and book is not the only form of love and that we can be happy even though our lives do not conform to the general idea about the perfect life. 

Read it if: You're not afraid to confront your own prejudices. You want to challenge your own perceptions of what the right way of living is. 


  1. I have picked this one up and set it down multiple times. Thanks to your review, I'm definitely nabbing this the next time I'm at the bookstore. It looked quirky and interesting, so it's good to hear that it holds up.

  2. Glad to hear that I convinced you, it is a really good read!

  3. I'm sort of obsessed with books starring polygamy, and this one has been on my wishlist for a while. I wasn't sure I liked the premise as much as some of the other books on my list, but I think you've convinced me!