Comment permalink

Funny, But Sprawling: The Lonely Polygamist

The neighbor's ostrich also proves to be unusually central to the plot, on several occasions.
I came into The Lonely Polygamist knowing absolutely nothing about it, except that a friend who knows my taste well said "You would REALLY like this book." I skimmed the book description, then bought it on a whim. Unusual for me, because typically I research books all to heck and gone before I actually drop my money on them. But in this case, Amazon acted as the enabler by making the book one of their "Daily Deal" specials, so I picked up a Kindle copy for a mere $1.99. 
 
This is the epic tale of a polygamist family colliding with a handful of challenges. The family consists of the father (Golden), four sister wives, and about thirty children. It gives a frank accounting of what the day-to-day chaos and logistical challenges are like in a family such as this, and neatly avoids the trap of either moralizing or being needlessly lurid. 

In other words, it isn't the sort of polygamist compound with child brides and slave labor, although it is only one step removed from that sort of polygamy. This is just a regular family, with regular family challenges, albeit magnified and complicated by the size.
 
There are two "prime movers" in the story: Golden, who skirts the edges of an affair while feeling estranged from his entire life, and Rusty, a somewhat perverted, unliked, and difficult-to-love young boy. Rusty's story is the more difficult of the two, more raw and upsetting and therefore more fascinating. Unfortunately his story ultimately turns away from us, which seemed a shame. (Also, there is an incident of "extremely inappropriate touching" near the end which the book treats like no big deal, but which grossed me out completely.)
 
The neighbor's ostrich also proves to be unusually central to the plot, on several occasions.
 
Although I enjoyed reading it, I sometimes grew impatient with its sprawling storyline. I wanted it to either be told through more perspectives, or fewer. And although many life-changing events happen (or have happened), including infidelity, miscarriages, early deaths, and cancer, it didn't feel like Udall was breaking any new ground. Perhaps that is the real miracle, that a book could make a huge polygamist family seem so utterly normal and, dare I say it, conventional. 
 
What kept me reading was wondering what would happen next, as the characters dream of making big changes (as do we all), and the humor. Nearly ever chapter has a bit that is laugh-out-loud funny, even if we are usually laughing at the characters instead of with them.