17 September 2010
Brady Udall, The Lonely Polygamist
Author: Brady Udall
Okay...I just finished reading this book today and the journey has been epic. I've been reading it since July and I was really excited to start it. I bought it in hardcover, because I just couldn't wait, and I started reading it in the Wildflower Bread Company across from the Barnes and Noble where I bought it. And then I read it forever.
I read reviews on this book, lots of them, and they were all positive, but I just couldn't get into it. The novel is told from four perspectives (mostly three though). Occasionally there are strange accounts coming from the houses themselves, but mostly, the main players are: Golden Richards, a polygamist patriarch with four wives who finds himself short on cash and working on building a brothel in the Nevada desert; Trish, his fourth and youngest wife, who is the only wife Golden might still find attractive, but who bears him no children due to reproductive difficulties and a tendency to miscarry; Rusty, Golden's pre-adolescent son who is an outcast in the family and believes he is in love with Trish.
The most compelling of these voices, for me, is Rusty. Rusty is a classic unreliable narrator. His is a warped view of the daily happenings in this overcrowded household, but he is perhaps the closest to the truth in the bird's eye view he seems to have of his surroundings. His awkward budding sexuality and his convoluted ideas about his masculinity also read as authentic, and his voice is the strongest and most distinct in the novel.
Trish is also likeable. I believe her and her desires to return to a life that is less complicated, a life of Cosmopolitan magazines and eye makeup. However, with the traumatic history of her miscarriages always weighing heavily upon her, her point of view reads often as too lighthearted and without psychological depth.
The big white elephant of the novel for me was the character of Golden. Golden isn't likeable to me, or even relateable. I read a review on Library Thing, where the author talks about how Golden never makes the choice to be an active participant in his life. I 100% agree with this. He isn't a victim to me, he isn't pitiable, and he isn't active enough to be interesting as the story's protagonist (if that is what he is). So, my inability to believe the characters - to understand their psychology - was the primary reason I had such a difficult time with the book.
That said, the Rusty chapters made me laugh aloud and there are some beautifully written, believable moments throughout the novel. The last 200 pages were very readable and propelled me forward. I think that some of the backstory regarding Golden's father and the subplots about uranium mining and nuclear testing were superfluous. The novel was too long, and omitting these (along perhaps with Trish's storyline) would have improved the pacing of the book significantly.
Bottom Line: I have to say that I wouldn't read this if I knew that I was going to feel this way about it. I've heard such wonderful things about Udall, and this certainly had wonderful moments, but not 3 months of my life's worth.