The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

This book is beyond belief. I am not saying that it is unbelievable; it is believable and entertaining, humorous, sad, compassionate — all the qualities that make a book worth reading and remembering. It is “beyond belief” in the sense that it’s really not about whether you believe in or condone polygamy. It’s more about a family (albeit one with one husband, four wives and 28 children) who struggle, compete, form alliances, break alliances, express love, fear, self-protection, self-doubt, and all of the other qualities of the human condition that we all do. The setting is certainly different from the family in which I grew up (and probably from your own), and it makes for a different story. But I didn’t feel a complete stranger in that household; I felt a tolerance and an odd type of kinship with the members of the family. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a wife (although not a “sister wife”) and a mother (never with 28 children, although sometimes it seemed like that many).

This riotous household is headed by a building contractor who, in designing his own home, placed all the main rooms around the kitchen. The children have turned the area into an indoor race track, where they chase each other to the point where the carpet is worn completely through to the padding. This, I believe, is an underlying truth to the entire novel. The household is in constant motion. But while the reader gets the impression of a certain type of household chaos, we also understand that all of the children are also individuals and inevitably, some are suffering from lack of attention and expression of love. This is where we find that the book is more than a slapstick portrayal of a chaotic family.

And guess what? The man of the family is having a mid-life crisis, which brings him to a place where he’s taken on a new mistress. Golden Richards isn’t despicable; we can even sympathize for his wishing for some peace and quiet and relief from constant demands for his attention.

But we have more empathy for his four wives, who must share a man who has limited time, energy, and (apparently) foresight. We have empathy for his other children, who are, after all, children.

And we have even more empathy for Rusty, son of Golden’s first wife, who finds himself an outcast among the children, and who receives the brunt of disapproval and punishment in the household. Rusty’s bond with the youngest wife, Trish, provides a respite, but not a solution for his situation.

I recommend this book. I recommend that you read it, enjoy it, and share it. You may find some passages hilarious enough to read out loud (as I did); you may find the references to the Mormon religion interesting and informative. I hope that you will also find that nugget of truth that is found in all good and memorable stories of families like (or not like) yours and mine, whether they be monogamous or polygamous; Morman, Catholic, Jewish or Muslim; gay or straight: all of us seek love and understanding. The best of families are where we find it.