Friday, December 20, 2013

The Lonely Polygamist (book review)

   Who recommended this book to me? Was it you, Birthday Girl Julia? Or was it Margi? Or just plain ol' Goodreads, based on who KNOWS what profile criteria? Anyway, someone sent this title my way, and I am so glad. It is yet another relatively new release I might not have tackled without someone's prompting.

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

   The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall, The Random House Group, 2010. 
599 pages of pure modern literary blissful torture.

   The experience of reading this book was very much like eating a giant, heavy, extremely tart and juicy, crisp green apple. You know, the kind of apple with a smooth, waxy skin and crunchy green-white flesh that upon being bit causes your right eye to squeeze shut and your neck to tense and you shudder from the tartness, yet the intense sweetness that follows and the juice that runs down your chin are so unmatched that before swallowing that bite you take another? The kind of apple that, though its natural sugars for a while give you that empty-stomach nauseous feeling, you believe may be the perfect antidote to all the junk you've been eating lately? The Lonely Polygamist is not entirely a smooth and easy, succulent, buttery, tempt-me-with-your-cheese-and-chocolate read. But it is all of those things once in a while, when it's not being so tart it's almost painful. And the sweetness that follows its tartness is priceless. That's about the best way I can relay the emotional experience of reading this very believable human story.

   The main character is Golden Richards, a middle-aged polygamist living out in the desert with his expanding patchwork family, which happens to be coming apart at the seams. There is an ostrich. There is a brothel. There is a nuclear test site. There is a Mormon church community, though that is more backdrop to the story than focus (I didn't take this as a religious comment at all). There are tawdry if awkward sex scenes, complicated marital relationships, and absolutely heart wrenching coming-of-age inner narratives. Honestly, the book is so tightly layered and elegantly told that it almost has to be an exact telling of these characters'  real life stories. Or does Brady Udall truly have such a fantastic understanding of the human heart? At several points in the story I was in physical pain worrying about the people. I caught myself praying for one of the wives once and one of the sons several times.

   Are you the least bit curious about polygamy or polyamory? Among so many other surprises, Udall lifts the veil a little to reveal a shining aspect I had never really considered:

At this, she could only smile; he couldn't have given her a more perfect, watertight answer. Because this, after all, was the basic truth they all chose to live by; that love was no finite commodity. That is was not subject to the cruel reckoning of addition and subtraction, that to give to one did not necessarily mean to take from another; that the heart, in its infinite capacity- even the confused and cheating heart of the man in front of her, even the paltry thing now clenched and faltering inside her own chest- could open itself to all who would enter, like a house with windows and doors thrown wide, like the heart of God itself, vast and accommodating and holy, a mansion of rooms without number, full of multitudes without end.

   What do you think?  I have to admit, this is frighteningly parallel to so many things I have been studying lately, just the open, accepting, unselfish, freeing nature of pure Love. And no, I am not thinking about polygamy; I am just thinking about being less clenched in my own chest.

   I hope you will consider reading this book. It's not for the faint of heart, unless you are looking for something to embolden you to your own life and help you find the teeth to take control. It's also not for the  highly opinionated, unless you are in search of something to mellow and stretch out your rigidity. I almost put the book back on my shelf a few times. I had no idea where the story was going, and it worried me. But page after page I was drawn more deeply into the hearts and minds of these characters, and it mattered to me more and more what happened to them. I am so happy to have stuck with Golden and his clan through to the end. Which, it turns out, tastes very much like a weird new beginning. The tartness was followed by so much sweetness, and I am full.

   I gave The Lonely Polygamist 5 stars on Goodreads. Well done Mr. Udall. I will find more of your titles.

"What a gyp!"*
~Rusty Richards, age 11

*This novel is anything but a gyp. But I got such a kick out of one of the son's frequent use of this phrase, I had to share it.


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