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Monday, July 19, 2010

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall, 2010, * * *

A family drama with stinging turns of dark comedy, the latest from Udall (The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint) is as comic as it is sublimely catastrophic. Golden Richards is a polygamist Mormon with four wives, 28 children, a struggling construction business, and a few secrets. He tells his wives that the brothel he's building in Nevada is actually a senior center, and, more importantly, keeps hidden his burning infatuation with a woman he sees near the job site. Golden, perpetually on edge, has become increasingly isolated from his massive family — given the size of his brood, his solitude is heartbreaking . Since the death of one of his children,  Golden is not only lonesome but also many other things that, ideally, he would not be: indecisive, feckless, withdrawn and hesitant. Though it takes more than 200 pages to notice, the novel is set not in current times but in the 1970s. Golden’s children do not wrestle with technology, cable TV or the Internet; nor are they caught up in the culture wars nor are they cut off from modernity. This is a novel about family and modern America with a protagonist trying to balance home life, work, the demands of society, and the wayward tugs of the heart – he just happens to have four nuclear families, which makes his midlife crisis and potential affair a little more complicated than most. Udall is willing to tackle big issues and write a broad tale, and it is a good read. However, there is an edge that is missing – everything is a touch too neat and tidy, and maybe there's a little extra sugar on the bitter pills.

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