The Lonely Polygamist

( 154 )


"Golden Richards, husband to four wives, father to twenty-eight children, is having the mother of all midlife crises. His construction business is failing, his family has grown into an overpopulated mini-dukedom beset with insurrection and rivalry, and he is done in with grief: due to the accidental death of a daughter and the stillbirth of a son, he has come to doubt the capacity of his own heart." Brady Udall tells a tragicomic story of a deeply faithful man who, crippled by grief and the demands of work and family, becomes entangled in an

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"Golden Richards, husband to four wives, father to twenty-eight children, is having the mother of all midlife crises. His construction business is failing, his family has grown into an overpopulated mini-dukedom beset with insurrection and rivalry, and he is done in with grief: due to the accidental death of a daughter and the stillbirth of a son, he has come to doubt the capacity of his own heart." Brady Udall tells a tragicomic story of a deeply faithful man who, crippled by grief and the demands of work and family, becomes entangled in an affair that threatens to destroy his family's future. Like John Irving and Richard Yates, Udall creates characters that engage us to the fullest as they grapple with the nature of need, love, and belonging. The Lonely Polygamist is a story of an American family - with its inevitable dysfunctionality, heartbreak, and comedy - pushed to its outer limits.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Udall's dark comedy of polygamy and American anomie has as its protagonist, the overworked father and (polygamous) husband, Golden Richards. Surrounded by wives and children (so many that he occasionally has trouble remembering their names), Golden is nonetheless a solitary spirit, finding little companionship amid the hubbub of his multiple homes. Udall's nimble prose dances lightly between farce and tragedy, and David Aaron Baker's reading manages a similar feat. Comic episodes are suitably breezy and Baker's pace grows stately when faced with darkness, his reading slowing to a molasses crawl for heartrending moments like the loss of a child. A Norton hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 22). (May)
The New York Times Book Review
“[An] exceptional tale of an exceptional family.”
Pam Houston
“What is so great about this unflinching, superbly crafted, big hearted novel is the way it makes us recognize the polygamist(and sister wife) in all of us. Golden Richards' struggles and desires are no different from ours, he just has them in multiples of four. His story not only demystifies and humanizes polygamist culture, it takes a dramatic stand on behalf of families everywhere—from the most conservative to the most alternative—and suggests a way to foreground, amidst all our failings, the rare moment of success.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“There's something cinematic about the way Udall presents this tale, with at least a handful of dramatic scenes that seem to beg for a big-screen treatment. Furthermore, Udall's poetic rendering of the Southwestern landscape brings to mind the lingering, panoramic shots of films like Brokeback Mountain and A River Runs Through It. But most of all it's Golden, Rusty and the novel's other complex characters that make The Lonely Polygamist a potential classic. They remain with the reader after the last page is turned.”
New West
“If you're looking for a big, funny, moving novel to read this spring, look no farther.”
Eric Weinberger
It is funny, it can be moving, it is ambitious and it is tender about man's endless absurdities and failings…Sometimes, reading The Lonely Polygamist, one wishes the author had a little less respect, but then the book might be that much less charming.
—The New York Times
Wendy Smith
In Brady Udall's audacious, frequently funny new novel, the polygamous patriarch is just a poor, henpecked schmo…Udall's blunt, empathetic portrait paints the polygamist as a beleaguered and bewildered Everyman. Golden can't keep his three households from warring with one another, let alone make their inhabitants happy…Telling a story that perpetually unsettles our expectations, Udall whipsaws between moods and roves among points of view.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal
Udall's long-awaited novel (after The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint) depicts a lively, humorous, and sometimes tragic picture of Golden Richards, his four demanding wives, and his 28 children. They are an unruly Mormon clan, scattered among three separate houses in rural Utah. Richards, a hapless graying contractor with a limp and a sinus condition, supports them with his less-than-successful construction business. To avoid bankruptcy, he takes a job in Nevada, a project he tells everyone is a senior citizens' home but in fact it is a bordello. That's only one of Golden's secrets. The sister wives hold weekly summits to schedule Golden's visits from wife to wife, house to house. He doesn't have a home of his own, so he frequently takes refuge in a playhouse built for a daughter who died in a tragic accident. In trying to help, he often makes things worse, but he valiantly makes one last effort to bring harmony to his fractious family. VERDICT Udall observes with a keen eye for the ridiculous while showing compassion. Think of the zany theatrics of Carl Hiaasen paired with the family drama of Elizabeth Berg. Enthusiastically recommended—Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO
Kirkus Reviews
Unhappy families are different, quoth Leo Tolstoy-even when they're headed by the same patriarch, the situation from which Udall's (The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, 2001, etc.) latest unfolds. "There's hard things we have to do in this life," says a wizened desert rat to an existentially confused Golden Richards, the protagonist. "We bite our lip and do 'em. And we pray to God to help us along the way." Golden is in need of such guiding words. At 48, he calls three houses home, each of them stuffed full of children. Things aren't going well out in the world that he's unsuccessfully tried to keep at bay; his construction business is mired in recession, and he's working in Nevada, far away from the comforts of home(s). To complicate matters, Golden, though already blessed or burdened with three wives, has taken up with another woman, a fringe effect of which is that now he has a fondness for mescal. Golden's life occasions a series of hard choices and often-rueful meditations, and Udall smartly observes how each plays out. His novel opens with a tumultuous welter of children who, though tucked away in a remote corner of Utah, have access to all the media and know, aptly, what a zombie is. As Golden's saga progresses, he learns about the mysteries of such things as condoms (as a friend meaningfully says, "so you don't go fucking yourself out of a spot at the dinner table") and the endless difficulties and intrigues of family politics, with all their plots against the patriarchal throne. Udall layers on real history with the tragedy of atomic testing in the Southwestern deserts of old, and imagined tragedy with some of the unexpected losses Golden must endure. In the end, Udall's story hassome of the whimsy of John Nichols's The Milagro Beanfield War but all the complexity of a Tolstoyan or even Faulknerian production-and one of the most satisfying closing lines in modern literature, too. Fans of the HBO series Big Love will be pleased to see an alternate take on the multi-household problem, and lovers of good writing will find this a pleasure, period.
Sexy Prime
“How often does The Great American Novel truly come along?”
Boise Weekly
“A rich, poignant look at a family whose lifestyle may seem absolutely aberrant, but for whom life’s issues are wholeheartedly normal.”
Miami Herald
“A thick, transporting, critically hailed novel from which you emerge, blinking but sated, into the real world.”
The New Yorker
“A wry, sympathetic portrait of a spectacularly dysfunctional family.”
Chicago Tribune
“Entertaining . . . very moving . . . Impressive.”
Wendy Smith - Washington Post
“An audacious and frequently funny new novel.”
Associated Press Staff
“A brilliantly crafted mini-epic that is at turns hilarious, terrifying, and heartbreaking . . . Cinematic . . . A potential classic.”
“Terrifically thought-provoking . . . a constantly shifting but marvelously controlled story.”
Salt Lake Tribune
“[A] compelling, rollicking story.”
Portland Oregonian
“I don’t know how true to life this story may be. But it feels right, and it reads beautifully and often hilariously, and I liked it an awful lot.”
Dallas Morning News
“An absorbing, moving entertaining novel that will transport the reader into Golden’s chaotic world.”
Entertainment Weekly
“The novel you must read this summer.... a riveting emotional tornado of a novel.”
Philadelphia Inquirer
“Uproarious . . . Udall’s storytelling [displays] ease and humor.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A profoundly satisfying read, written with a ferocious verve and authenticity.”
Eric Weinberger - The New York Times Book Review
“Funny [and] moving, [The Lonely Polygamist] is ambitious and it is tender about man’s endless absurdities and failings.”
John Dufresne
“The Lonely Polygamist is a hefty, eager, and bittersweet novel, and it is a page-turner. Brady Udall deals with familial chaos, reckless behavior, and alarming pyrotechnics with wit, grace, and tenderness. He’s an enchanter who casts his spell with exquisite sentences and unerring, evocative details. Here is a writer of inordinate compassion and formidable intelligence. Read this remarkable novel, friend, live with it, and I promise you this, little Rusty Richards will haunt your dreams.”
Hannah Tinti
“The Lonely Polygamist cracks open the door to plural marriage and lets in the light. Brady Udall explores the Richards family with the greatest care and humor, building memorable characters that readers will immediately love. Funny and wise, The Lonely Polygamist stands with other great family novels such as The Corrections and Middlesex, and sets Udall on the top shelf of America’s writers.”
Bonnie Jo Campbell
“This is big-hearted American storytelling, the best new book I’ve read in years.”
Rabih Alameddine
“The Lonely Polygamist is both an astounding feat and a sumptuous feast. This is the Second Coming of the Great American Novel. Or is it the Third? Who’s counting? Read this brilliant book.”
Alan Cheuse - All Things Considered
“The novelist’s affection for his protagonist and sensitivity to his domestic despair yields characters and scenes that are precise and unfailingly rewarding. [Udall] has that gift for writing sinuous and convincing sentences that convey his affection without compromising clarity or truth.”
“One of the best novels I’ve read in a while . . . Golden Richards, middle-aged, 6-foot-6 polygamist with an overbite, is one of the most appealing, original, and brilliantly tragicomic protagonists to appear in American fiction in some time.”
“The Lonely Polygamist is a great American novel, perhaps the great American novel of the year.”
The Barnes & Noble Review

In Reality Hunger, a self-described manifesto recently published to much chatter, David Shields argues that the conventional novel, with its contrived plot points and all-seeing authorial voice, is dying, and deserves its fate. David Shields, meet Brady Udall. In the tradition of John Irving and Richard Russo and dozens of other novelists whose work appeals to something in people that Shields either can't or doesn't want to understand, Udall writes unabashedly old-fashioned fiction. It's stuffed, in the present case, with fallout from A-bomb tests, a frisky ostrich, births and deaths, and a family, "like so many overextended empires before it, coming apart along the seams."

The title character of Udall's second novel, The Lonely Polygamist, is 45-year-old Golden Richards, husband of four and father of 28. With such an army to support, Golden, a Utah contractor, can't afford to turn his nose up at a lucrative job, so he's ignoring his Christian convictions and building a brothel in the neighboring state of Nevada. He lets his devout wives and church friends believe that the project is a home for seniors.

Despite the size of his family, Golden is feeling "a loneliness that verged on desperation." His gloomy mood began with the death of a young daughter, Glory, three years earlier. (The chapter charting his relationship with Glory, who suffered from spastic cerebral palsy, is the kind of expertly condensed set piece at which Udall excels.) Golden has even started pining for his boss's wife, which only compounds the guilt he feels for neglecting his own family.

The size of the cast means that Udall, like his protagonist, must make some tough choices. The smartest one he makes is to ignore the children as individuals (there are plenty of funny descriptions of them as a faceless hive), except for one, Rusty. Going on 12 years old, boyishly spazzy and misunderstood, prone to conspicuous behavior like trying on his sisters' underwear or blowing up a cherry bomb in the dryer, Rusty has been separated from his nervous mother, wife #3, to live in another house under the sterner guidance of wife #1, Beverly. Rusty's plight is to be a kid looking for attention when there isn't nearly enough to go around. "If there's anything you learned as a plyg kid," he thinks, using the shorthand for a child of polygamy, "it was that you were not the center of the universe." The one family member who offers him substantial sympathy is Trish, wife #4, who lives with her daughter from a previous marriage in a duplex on the other side of town from the rest of the clan, "like some exiled daughter of a Prussian czar." Though Golden gives the novel its title, he, Rusty, and Trish all form its yearning heart.

We may live in a reality-hungry world, like Shields and others suggest, but there is still a unique pleasure in having the vague messiness of life alchemized into a good story, and Udall does that as well as anyone currently writing. He is such a gifted and confident storyteller, in fact, that it's only when the last page has been turned that one questions whether he has whitewashed the subculture of polygamy. The idea that a marginalized fundamentalist religion that espouses patriarchal polygamy might have some pretty dark corners (see: Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven) is not examined here. There is real confusion and grief in the book, but it is mostly portrayed as it might be for a family of five. This is simply the Big American Family Novel writ Bigger, a study of the ways in which we surround ourselves looking for love only to be disappointed and essentially alone. Or as a minor character puts it to Golden: "Safety in numbers. Ain't no such thing."

--John Williams

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393062625
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/3/2010
  • Pages: 602
  • Sales rank: 1,458,113
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Brady Udall

Brady Udall is the author of The Lonely Polygamist, a New York Times bestseller, and Letting Loose the Hounds. He teaches at Boise State University and lives in Boise, Idaho, with his wife and children.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 154 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 154 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 18, 2010

    Too much for one book

    I am a fan of Udall's writing, but was disappointed in this book. It is called a "dark comedy," but the tragic parts didn't seem so tragic juxtaposed with the comedy. Also, the horrific parts about the government's bomb testing were also diluted with the humor.
    After reading much literature about polygamy, I was not prepared to be sympathetic to this family, but I was. . . a testament to Udall's writing. Alas, the book seemed to take on too much.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 5, 2010

    A big family story, and I mean big!

    Golden Richards is a big family man, a very big family man. A polygamist Mormon with four wives and 28 children it is a wondered how he has any time for his floundering construction company (maybe this is why it is struggling?). In spite of his large family, Richard's increasing finds himself on the outside, detached from his loved ones. With this situation the author masterfully weaves together a dark comedy that made me laugh and cry. Golden has his secrets, a terrible crush on a woman he sees passing his job site: oh yeah, the job site itself is a Nevada cathouse but he tells the family it is a senior center! The family itself is tearing at the seams and Richard's is lost as to what to do. This is some of the best writing of 2010.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 15, 2010

    nothing short of BRILLIANT

    No stranger to quirky stories that probe the depths of humanity, Udall has brought to bear every bit of the formidable strength he has been cultivating in his previous work. As a result, what he has given us is an exquisitely crafted novel whose 602 pages had me alternately laughing aloud and reading through unstoppable tears.

    While the story of a man with 4 wives, 28 children, a struggling construction business and a mid-life crisis that could destroy it all might seem not only unusual but implausibly far-fetched, the skill and compassion with which Udall draws each nuanced character makes them so painfully human that by the end of the story, they aren't at all unbelievable, but rather, an assemblage of every family you've ever known.

    It is a story of failure and redemption, dreams and disappointment, about the threats that seep in from the most unlikely sources and the blessings that do the same. An epic tale of love and family and the deepest currents of what it means to be human, a novel that should be on everyone's bookshelf -- and every book award list for 2010.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2013

    Fell in love with the characters

    This was one of those stories that i got completely lost in. The characters all seemed incredibly real and the story was heartwarming. It's long but it's definitely worth the read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2011

    Can't always have what you want.

    This book was WAY to long. Brady expressed way to much on the main charter,but, I still had a vague feeling about him. Rusty was the star of the book. I read it but can't really get to enthustic about it.

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  • Posted August 15, 2011

    Horrible Disappointing Book...Don't Waste Your Time or Money

    Horrible book. Had times when I thought it would take off and be enjoyable, but was let down each time...Scenes like the one where a 30 year old woman giving manual relief to an 11 year old were disturbing and not believable....Stay away!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 5, 2011


    I was drawn to the subject of polygamy by the fictional family in Big Love and by the real-life sister wives on the TV show of the same name. The idea of having a supportive group of sister-wives to help with child-rearing and house care is attractive to me, even if the idea of sharing a husband is not. This book drew me in because I wanted to read more about a polygamist family - husband, wives, children - and how they interacted. Unfortunately, that's not what The Lonely Polygamist provided. The focus was on the husband, Golden Richards, and his midlife crisis. The children existed in the background, as a blur running around the "racetrack" in Big House, where two of his wives lived. Except for Rusty and Glory, I never got a feel for how old they were or what made them unique. Why would a kid be named Fig Newton or Boo or Pet? I wanted explanations, which I didn't get. The wives were not well drawn out, either. Beverly and Trish had more of a presence than the other two, sisters Nola and Rose-of-Sharon, did. Kids were thrown into the story without explaining who they belonged to or how old they were. There was a chart explaining all of this at the front of the book, but since I was reading it on my Nook, flipping back and forth was awkward. I felt it could have been woven into the story easily. There was a lot more detail about the extracurricular love interest, his boss's wife. The offhand comments about the nuclear testing going on nearby were frightening, and I felt that Udall dealt with them flippantly. Radiation and fallout caused all sorts of problems for the people in the story, but they were dismissed in a couple of sentences. There was a brief reference to the number of children being born with birth defects, but the subject remained in the background. In short, I was disappointed by this book. I didn't like Golden; he was too detached from his wives and children. I didn't like the setting, which seemed to me like a radioactive desert. I wish I'd gotten to know the children better. I wouldn't recommend this book for anybody looking for a read in which a polygamist family is central. I suppose the title should have tipped me off.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2011


    Interesting interplay of characters

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  • Posted July 2, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Worth a Read

    Brady Udall certainly gives us plenty of characters to follow. Golden Richards, a polygamist with four wives and 28 children plus a love interest on the side, stays busy in this novel. There are many other memorable characters besides the family. At times while reading this book, I thought Golden Richards is what John Updikes's character Rabbit Angstrom would have been had Angstrom been a polygamist. Something about the child Rusty Richards reminded me of John Irving's Owen Meany. The book was funny in places and really sad in others, but I think Udall drug it out a bit too long. Udall skillfully shifted to differnt third person points of view throughout the book; that made it more interesting. All in all, a good book and definitely worth the time to read.

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  • Posted June 29, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    BIG Love for the Lonely Polygamist and his Sister-Wives

    THE LONELY POLYGAMIST starts with a family tree chart. This proved extremely helpful in setting up the novel, as well as serving as a reference guide to help readers keep straight four wives and twenty-eight children. The family chart shows everyone's relation, age, and name. I flipped back to it several times during the course of the 600-page book.

    Fortunately, although there are over 30 family characters, the novel only focuses on a select few, leaving the rest as just "background" characters who we never really learn much about. There's Golden, the father; his wives Beverly, Nola, Rose-of-Sharon, and Trish; and his son Rusty. Even some of the wives take a backseat, as the author puts more focus on Beverly and Trish. Brady Udall did a great job of fleshing out these characters, as well as Golden's now-deceased parents and his story as a young boy.

    Golden was dragged into the polygamy lifestyle and now, after four wives and twenty-eight kids, he feels in over his head. He feels overwhelmed and a bit regretful. He doesn't feel like he can live up to everyone's expectations and make them all happy. On top of all that, he's keeping secret the fact that he's helping build a brothel for work.

    Udall really gets into the mind of the main characters. The point of view (POV) of each chapter changes throughout the novel. At first, I compared it to Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN because the family itself is like a small town with 30+ personalities and POVs. However, I soon realized that the chapters are written only from one of the main characters' (either Golden, Trish, or Rusty) or from an omniscient POV. Rusty's chapters are written as if they were thoughts of a 12-year-old. The omniscient chapters are written in generic terms, never naming names, only saying "the father," "the fourth wife," etc.

    Each chapter is another piece to the puzzle, and each chapter provides a story within itself. At some points throughout the novel, I felt that Udall went a little overboard with the descriptions and probably could have edited some scenes to cut the novel down a bit more from its 600 pages. Overall, though, it was extremely well-written and held my interest, wondering what would become of Golden and his brood. In the end, everyone has a decision to make and direction to take that would affect the family unit as a whole.

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  • Posted May 23, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Oh yeah you've got to read this

    This is probably one of the funniest books I've read in a long time. It does have a dark side to it but there were spots where I thought I was going to fall out of bed laughing. Golden is so pathetic you can't help but love him and the situations he gets into are just sad.

    For those of you worried that this book is slamming Polygamist, it's not, it actually portrays them in a sensitive caring manner.

    I recommended this to everyone I know that reads.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2010

    sounded promising in the description

    Didn't really like this book. Thought I would from the description, but it bored me. Can't say exactly why, it just didn't grab me.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 19, 2010

    Family is family

    Being an optimist, I have to say that "The Lonely Polygamist" is a pretty decent read. The author paints a good portrait of a large, polygamist family and writes with a lot of imagery, setting the scenes in your mind. My only complaint is that the author gets TOO caught up in details, adding pages and pages of blabber that I really felt were irrelevant. I skipped quite a few pages and don't feel like I missed any crucial moments or details.
    It's a good read and worth the while, but don't feel bad about skipping over the dry parts.

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    Posted August 13, 2011

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    Posted June 27, 2012

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    Posted June 17, 2010

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    Posted October 15, 2010

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    Posted April 10, 2011

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    Posted February 20, 2013

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    Posted November 9, 2010

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