I've read books about polygamy before - both fiction and nonfiction - and I continue to find it a fascinating subject. Brady Udall's novel The Lonely Polygamist takes a perspective on polygamy that I haven't encountered before, though; that of the husband to multiple wives. And in a family with three houses, four wives, and twenty-six living children, it turns out to be surprisingly easy to feel alone. Golden Richards is adrift.
Golden Richards strikes me as one of those people that life just happens to; he's not terribly in control of much of it, but he's trying to manage it. Growing up in Louisiana with a mother who never got over the departure of his father, Golden - barely educated and strangely innocent - would probably have never imagined he'd end up in a fundamentalist-Mormon church in a small Utah town, but when he eventually meets up with his father again, that's where Royal Richards' wandering life has taken him. Golden marries his first wife, Beverly - who was Royal's last girlfriend - after his father's death; Beverly orchestrates Golden's next marriages, to sisters Nola and Rose-of-Sharon and then to young single mother Trish. Power struggles among the wives, rivalry among the many living children and grief over one lost one, and financial struggles in his construction business lead Golden to immerse himself in an out-of-state building job...and to take an all-too-absorbing interest in a woman he encounters there. If he thought his life was out of control before, he hasn't seen anything yet.
With so many characters to choose from, Udall takes the perspective of three: Golden, Trish, and Rusty, the misfit son of Golden and Rose-of-Sharon (who is, in her way, as misfit as her son). Seeing the Richards family from these differing viewpoints allows their story to be told more fully, and I found it very effective, particularly since the author manages to make each of these characters sympathetic and appealing...more than I might have have expected from a novel with this particular subject matter.
The Lonely Polygamist, at well over 500 pages, wasn't a particularly fast read for me, but it was an absorbing one. The author truly brings this unusual family to life and renders them with compassion and frequent humor. There are some absurdly funny scenes throughout the novel, as well as some genuinely moving ones. The polygamist isn't the only one in his family who's lonely, and connections - made and missed, found and lost - are what propels this story. It took me a few months to get around to reading this novel. In part, to be honest, I was intimidated by the page count; however, that's really the only thing about the book that's intimidating at all. Rather than intimidating, The Lonely Polygamist was a strangely endearing novel, and well worth the time I spent with it.