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Another Notable–“The Lonely Polygamist”

In my search for positive things about winter (a short list), I’ll note one good thing–there’s more time for reading. Although it seems like I just finished Edmund De Waal’s “The Hare with Amber Eyes,” last night I wrapped up “The Lonely Polygamist” by Brady Udall, all 599 pages of it.

My one-sentence assessment: This good book doesn’t live up to its immense potential.

“The Lonely Polygamist” is one of the American Library Association’s Notable Books for this year, from the fiction portion of the list. The premise is that Golden Richards, a man with four wives and 28 children, finds himself, essentially, lonely. He’s also in several kinds of mess, overseeing construction of a brothel in the next state (he tells the church and family that he’s working on a nursing home), becoming involved with the wife of his boss, and ignoring the simmering tension in his three homes.

Udall tells the story by alternating the focus between Golden, one of his sons, and his fourth wife.

Looking back on the novel, I observe three basic sections–the first introduces the people and their dilemmas, the second piles on the lack of love, respect, integrity, and compassion among the cast, and the third brings the story to some resolution. That second section was way too long. It became tiresome and felt hopeless. I don’t know why I plowed through it, since I’m a firm believer that no reader should feel compelled to soldier through an unrewarding book. Nevertheless, I did. And Udall did well with pulling the threads together.

I expected this to be a romp of a book, and certainly Udall creates incredible scenes that are drop-dead absurd or downright funny. The premise here is great–a lonely polygamist?! But Golden Richards seemed too much of a hangdog–he weighed down too many pages. What high hopes I had. If only that great idea hadn’t burned itself out so early, so far short of the 599th page.

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