2011: 61. The Lonely Polygamist

"To put it as simply as possible: this is a story of a polygamist who has an affair."

The Lonely Polygamist, Brady Udall

This novel tells the story of a modern day polygamist (well, I think it’s set in the 1970’s) and his family, and does an excellent job making them seem sympathetic, and real, and not freaky or sensational.  It is well-written, and I was moved by it, and I appreciate what Udall has done.  I understand why the book was Entertainment Weekly’s #1 fiction book of the year, why the New Yorker rabed, why it was a New York Times Bestseller.  As I think back on reading it, I keep remembering good things about it - how the point of view shifted among the various characters, how it doesn’t condescend to the sister-wives by making them abused children, but rather real women who have made a choice (albeit one that has good and bad parts), the way he makes Golden Richards, the titular polygamist seem like a good man whose gotten out of control, not a Warren Jeffs type.  And how moved I was by certain plot points (nothing more, for fear of spoilers).  These things give the book nuance, and even though I am pretty damn certain that most polygamists out in central Utah are the kind that oppress women, not dim gentle giants, it worked.  Kudos well deserved, Udall.

BUT.  The thing is, whenever I read or watch anything about polygamy, I just root for the women to get out of it and find a better life.  Find their own  lives.  This was my problem with Big Love, and my problem with this book - basically, I can’t root for characters when I root against their lifestyle.  Taken in conjunction with my increasing exhaustion with “bumbling man can’t handle his own life” stories, which this most definitely is (have some agency, Golden!), and I just couldn’t get behind this book.  Maybe that is my fault, but in the end, I appreciate the skill behind this book, but couldn’t love it.

Categories: Fiction

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017