Wednesday 17 June 2015

The Lonely Polygamist

Finished June 13
The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

This novel has three narrators, with the story moving between them. One is the polygamist of the title, Golden Richards. We see Golden's story from his childhood, his parents' marital issues and him following his father west. We learn that it is through his father that Golden has ended up in this community, as the husband of four women, the father of 15 daughters and 13 sons. Money has been tight and Golden has looked further afield for jobs for his construction company. He is working on a project he is reluctant to have his community know the nature of, and lives at the construction site, 200 miles away in Nevada, during the week. This has thrown off the routine of the marriages, and Golden finds himself drawn to a woman he sees one evening when he takes a walk.
He is a man unsure of himself, one who has let life take him along for the ride, doing what was expected of him, what he was told to do, but now he finds himself expected to make decisions, to take the lead, and he isn't prepared. Golden is also grieving the loss of a daughter, one born with a disability, that he had unexpectedly bonded with in a way he hasn't had the time alone with his other children to do.
There are issues with his wives, with the middle two, sisters, resenting his first wife, Beverly, who tends to make a lot of the family decisions. He can sense the frustration against him, and the frustration with the situation they find themselves in. He doesn't seem able to do anything about it.
Another voice belongs to his youngest wife, Trish. Trish is still grieving their stillborn son, and feeling less secure in her position in the marriage. Golden seems to be spending less time with her and less able to interact with her when he does. There are things at the house she lives in that need fixing, but he doesn't have the time.
The third voice is one of Golden's sons, Rusty. Rusty is his fifth son, the third child of his third wife, and a boy often in trouble. Rusty has been chosen by Beverly to live in her house instead of with his mother and aunt to deal with his behaviour, but it only serves to make him feel unfairly punished, and lonely for the house he wants to be in. His behaviour deteriorates instead of improving, and he wanders, making friends with a lonely man, and visiting Trish.
All three of these characters are lonely, desperate to be seen as individuals, to be loved, and yet also wanting to belong. As each of them reaches a point that will change their lives, they make choices, and those choices will affect both them and the rest of their family.
An interesting look inside a way of life I am totally unfamiliar with. Udall doesn't demonize polygamists, nor does he idolize them. He portrays them as people, people who grew up with this life, who have problems just like people elsewhere, and who have to decide what they want when faced with difficult choices.

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