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).
Sure, Golden is a polygamist, or more accurately a polygynist and a member of a fundamentalist branch of the Mormon Church. More importantly Golden Richards is a man who has been floundering for solid footing ever since the tragic death of his and Beverly's precious daughter, Glory. These days life seems a bewildering cacophony of people and circumstances all reeling beyond any means of comprehension or order. Even his standing in the church, which at one time was as heir apparent to its leadership, is faltering. But this man of many wives and even more children, capable of few words and even fewer decisions of late, cannot be defined by the labels of his life polygynist, husband, father, general contractor, Council of the Twelve member. It is Udall's depiction of the events and of Golden's responses to life's circumstances that actualize him. Circumstances that swing from heartbreaking to mundane to ill-omened to laugh-out-loud funny and back again.
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. Side by side, Golden, Trish, Rusty (son #5) and the reader observe the escalating "moments of dislocation when it seemed everyone was speaking in a kind of pig latin that [Golden] could not quite make sense of." We are there when Rusty, nicknamed The Terrorist, decides that nobody in his family really knows or even cares about him. And when Trish worries about her daughter Faye, who not only sees but talks to dead people.
The tough economic times of the 1970s don't help matters. Golden must be absent for prolongued periods in order to make the weekly commute from Utah to Nevada to work on a job. His crew are constructing a brothel the only work available but he tells his family he is building a senior citizens' center. With this lie he is also building a hefty burden of guilt. What's more, isolation impels Golden to strike up an acquaintance with a mysterious woman whom he assumes is a prostitute. The acquaintance blooms into a sort-of romance. Another secret. Another heap of guilt. And so it goes.
It is clear that no good can come of this, but when it does, after the Utah dust settles we are left with an abiding fondness, if not for polygamy, at least for Udall's memorable portrayal of family (large and small) and the kind of love the Richards clan embodies. Way to go, Udall!
This review was originally published in July 2010, and has been updated for the May 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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