Book Review: The Lonely Polygamist

The Lonely Polygamist

Brady Udall

W W Norton & Co

602 pages

Golden Richards is a gruff, middle aged man.  Upon meeting him, you would expect that he is a pretty typical guy, so most people don’t guess that he is a polygamist with four wives and countless children.  He is married to Beverly, Nola, Rose of Sharon and Tricia and they have so many children that I literally couldn’t keep track of them.

Although Golden has a huge family, luckily Udall chooses to focus on only three family members as the main characters of the book.

Golden: It was difficult for me to decide how I felt about Golden.  His family was falling apart at the seams, yet Golden refused to take responsibility and instead fled by working a job site in Nevada.  He is gone almost constantly and instead of going back home and seeking solace from his wives and children, especially Tricia, who is yearning for love and affection, Golden begins to develop feelings for his bosses wife Huila.

Tricia: Tricia is wife number 4.  She has been married to Golden for a couple of years and bore one child with him, a son that was stillborn.  Tricia has been yearning for a connection with her husband but he refuses to let her in and a chasm forms between them.  Tricia feels lost in the family and eventually forges a friendship with a young local man.  Eventually she must decide whether she wants to stay with Golden and the family or escape to a different life.

Rusty: Rusty is the prepubescent son of Golden and Rose of Sharon.  He doesn’t really have a place in the family.  He is the black sheep and doesn’t have a bond with any of his brothers or sisters, who often tease him.  He attempts to reach out to his mother, but she is battling her own demons and is unable to offer Rusty what he is seeking.  In order to gain attention from his family members, Rusty acts out in ways that get more and more destructive as the book goes on.

One interesting side note: I imagined Rusty as the chubby kid with curly red hair from The Sandlot.

I am a bit obsessed with the polygamist lifestyle right now, due solely to TLC’s show Sister Wives.  For those of you who have not seen the show, it is a reality TV program following polygamist Kody Brown and his four wives and numerous kids.  Sound familiar?  I couldn’t help but imagine Golden and his four wives as Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christina and Robin from Sister Wives!

Sister Wives aside, The Lonely Polygamist was a very different type of book that held my attention *for the most part*.  My biggest caveat was the length of the book.  I don’t have a problem with reading a 600 page book, but this one lost it in the middle.  There were a good one or two hundred pages that started to lag and made the book really monotonous.  By the time the ending came around, I was getting really bored.  I was lucky in that the ending came around just in time and really saved the book for me.

Speaking of the ending, I thought it was phenomenal.  I don’t want to give anything away, obviously, but being that we read this book for my book club (we have yet to discuss it, so I can’t speak to how my fellow book club members feel about the book), I loved how much food for thought the ending brought on.  I think it will lead to a great discussion.  In fact, one of my coworkers is in my book club and when she finished the book last week, we couldn’t wait and had to discuss the book straight away.

This is the type of book that you need to go into expecting to devote quite a bit of time and attention to.  It’s definitely an interesting look into a different type of family dynamic.

Other Reviews:

Both Eyes Book Blog

My mom purchased this book for me–wasn’t that nice of her?!

Book club pick for October/November 2010.

11 Responses

  1. I’d be interested to hear what your group thinks of the book… hope you’ll post a quick update! It sounds like a book that would generate a good discussion.

  2. I too have read books that lagged in the middle and then the ending was good enough to cause me to revise my assessment of the whole book. I too would love to hear what your bookclub thinks – even just polygamy alone without a surprise ending ought to yield a great discussion!

  3. Too bad the story slowed down in the middle, but at least the ending made it all worthwhile. I’ve been tempted to watch Sister Wives, I must admit.

  4. Great review! I saw this one when it first came out but wasn’t sure if it would be too similar to books like The 19th Wife and also if it was just trying to be a novelization of Big Love. It definitely sounds like it is its own thing, which is good, though I was disappointed to hear that it lags in the middle. I find that it’s the rare lengthy book (450+ pages) that feels completely tight and earns its length. Most books that are long like this tend to have large sections that I feel could be snipped!

  5. Like Steph, I wonder if it overlaps a bit with other books on polygamy, which have the advantage of being shorter! But it does sound like an interesting read, and like one that will raise quite an interesting discussion.

  6. I’m really looking forward to this one, and I bought it for my Kindle this summer, but I fear the length has put me off from actually reading it yet. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it!

  7. Too bad the middle of this book isn’t so good. That always makes it tough for me to get to the end. But if the end is so good, then I’m interested in reading this one…at some point!

    I love that you chose the kid from Sandlot as Rusty. That totally makes me want to read the book more!

  8. I was wondering about the length as soon as I saw how many pages and then read what it was about. It would have been really hard to carry this story for that long. Sounds like another one that could have been much better with a stern editor.

  9. I read an interview with the author and have since been curious about this one. It definitely sounds like it is a discussion-worthy book. That’s too bad about the middle. That seems to happen sometimes with longer books, unfortunately. Thank you for your insightful review!

  10. Hello. I did not agree with the review. What part of the book was the reviewer referring – re: “lagging”?

    I was disappointed with Rusty’s story. I was hoping for a little bit of redemption for that last soul. Maybe he could have his fantasy family with June as his dad and Trish as his mom. I also thought Trish’s ending would’ve been a little different than what was in the book — oh well — I’m a hopeless romantic.

    Brady Udall has an exceptional talent with the written word. I will be reading more of his novels.

  11. You figure a title like this has to be ironic, even sarcastic. For most of us the notion of a polygamist Mormon patriarch — one possessed of four wives and 28 children — probably conjures a despotic control freak. But this book is simply and sincerely titled. The protagonist Golden Richards is a sweet, bewildered, and thoroughly overwhelmed man.

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