Summary and book reviews of The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

The Lonely Polygamist

By Brady Udall

The Lonely Polygamist
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  • Hardcover: May 2010,
    602 pages.
    Paperback: May 2011,
    608 pages.

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Book Summary

From a luminous storyteller, a highly anticipated new novel about the American family writ large.

Golden Richards, husband to four wives, father to twenty-eight children, is having the mother of all midlife crises. His construction business is failing, his family has grown into an overpopulated mini-dukedom beset with insurrection and rivalry, and he is done in with grief: due to the accidental death of a daughter and the stillbirth of a son, he has come to doubt the capacity of his own heart. Brady Udall, one of our finest American fiction writers, tells a tragicomic story of a deeply faithful man who, crippled by grief and the demands of work and family, becomes entangled in an affair that threatens to destroy his family's future. Like John Irving and Richard Yates, Udall creates characters that engage us to the fullest as they grapple with the nature of need, love, and belonging.

Beautifully written, keenly observed, and ultimately redemptive, The Lonely Polygamist is an unforgettable story of an American family—with its inevitable dysfunctionality, heartbreak, and comedy—pushed to its outer limits.

Family Home Evening

TO PUT IT AS SIMPLY AS POSSIBLE: THIS IS THE STORY OF A POLYGAMIST

who has an affair. But there is much more to it than that, of course; the life of any polygamist, even when not complicated by lies and secrets and infidelity, is anything but simple. Take, for example, the Friday night in early spring when Golden Richards returned to Big House—one of three houses he called home—after a week away on the job. It should have been the sweetest, most wholesome of domestic scenes: a father arrives home to the loving attentions of his wives and children. But what was about to happen inside that house, Golden realized as he pulled up into the long gravel drive, would not be wholesome or sweet, or anything close to it.

The place was lit up like a carnival tent—yellow light burned in every one of the house's two dozen windows—and the sound coming from inside was as loud as he'd ever heard it: a whooping clamor that ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What were your views on polygamy before reading the book? Did they change after you finished reading?
  2. Discuss Golden's progression from lonely polygamist to social polygamist. How does a renewal of faith assist this transformation?
  3. Compare and contrast Golden's behavior at the two funerals. How are they similar? In what ways are they different?
  4. How does Glory affect the other family members and Golden in particular?
  5. Discuss the motifs of creation and destruction that appear throughout the novel.
  6. Do you think Rusty is a representative figure for all of the Richards children in the novel, or is he in some ways unique?
  7. Trish is one of the most conflicted mothers in the novel. What do you think of her decision at the end? ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Thanks to Udall's awesome ability to craft these lives and this place – the American west – Golden et al come off the page and join the reader ... I am going to miss Golden Richards. And Trish, Golden's fourth wife. And Cooter, Golden's bug-eyed dachshund mix who, due to an obsessive licking problem, occasionally has to wear tiny undershorts that once belonged to a Swingin' Baby Timmy doll and are "all white except for a yellow explosion on the rear, inside of which the words HOME RUN!!! were printed in blue." I am going to miss them and the dozens – yes, dozens, more than two dozen actually – of children that Golden has with Trish, and Beverly (wife #1), and Nola (wife #2), and Rose-of-Sharon (wife #3).   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

Full Review Members Only (924 words).

Media Reviews
Library Journal

Starred Review. Udall observes with a keen eye for the ridiculous while showing compassion. Think of the zany theatrics of Carl Hiaasen paired with the family drama of Elizabeth Berg. Enthusiastically recommended.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. In the end, Udall's story has some of the whimsy of John Nichols's The Milagro Beanfield War but all the complexity of a Tolstoyan or even Faulknerian production.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Udall's polished storytelling and sterling cast of perfectly realized and flawed characters make this a serious contender for Great American Novel status.

The Washington Post - Claire Hopley

The Lonely Polygamist begins with detailed, often funny, descriptions of polygamous life, but rather than exploring it in its variety and depth, segues into an affirmation of families and fatherhood that sadly deserves the cliched descriptor "heartwarming," but is less than satisfying either as an exploration or as narrative. Indeed, the lack of a tight narrative structure lets this 602-page novel wander into loose-baggy territory that could have been sidestepped by some energetic editing.

New York Times - Eric Weinberger

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. Polygamists, nowadays, are vilified for things either absent in this book (like child rape and under-age marriages) or subdued (like violence and the expulsion of boys and nonconformists). But Golden’s brood is a lot like ours. ...

The Washington Post - Wendy Smith

Udall's blunt, empathetic portrait paints the polygamist as a beleaguered and bewildered Everyman. Golden can't keep his three households from warring with one another, let alone make their inhabitants happy. He's being pressured by his mentor in the church to take a fifth wife he doesn't want and can't afford. His construction business is faltering in the economic doldrums of the late 1970s, and his fellow apostles will only think worse of him if they learn the real nature of his current job: building an addition to a brothel 200 miles away in Nevada.

MormonMatters.org

I was captivated by this 550-page novel, and fascinated by how relevant it is to readers of all backgrounds. ... The fact that Udall is so skilled at probing the universalities of life gives his readers an opportunity to ponder our own life journeys as we enter into what we might otherwise consider the divergent spheres of the husband, wife, and child of a polygamous family.

Reader Reviews
Linda Grana

Pure Entertainment!
"The Lonely Polygamist" is one of my Top 3 Reads of 2010. It is 602 pgs. of sheer entertainment! Also an all-time favorite with my book club, you just can't go wrong with Brady Udall's latest foray into the life of a middle aged polygamist...   Read More

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Mormon Fundamentalists

Estimates of the number of Mormon fundamentalists residing in the western United States, Canada and Mexico range from 20,000 to 60,000 (compared with over 10 million mainstream Mormons worldwide). Although there are numerous sects, the largest two are the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS Church) and the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB). They each have 9,000 to 10,000+ members and both are headquartered in Utah, although the AUB also has a temple in Mexico. Not all sects espouse multiple marriage although many do. Exact numbers are hard to come by but it is thought that fewer than 15,000 are practicing polygamists.

Indeed, fundamentalist Mormons eschew the term "polygamy" as it implies multiple ...

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