Udall, Brady. The Lonely Polygamist

JonathanCape, $32.95

One man, four wives, 28 children, a near-mistress, a dog, three homes, a couple of cars, a sagging couch, an inconvenient lump of chewing gum, and an atomic bomb calledRoy. All crowded into the best novel I’ve read this year.

The Lonely Polygamist makes ordinary that rare creature, the polygamist Mormon family. Navigating grief, disarray, and dysfunction, the sprawling Richards clan somehow reflects a warped Everyfamily: its strangeness familiar, its domesticity alien.

Golden Richards is a big man-mountain of anguish and indecision. None of his deeply religious family knows his construction business is building a brothel, out of the family’s financial necessity. His family is disintegrating into unhappy, shifting factions. Golden quietly grieves the loss of an adored daughter and a stillborn son. His wives and children clamour for his attention and affection.

Then Golden, a man you would think had enough women around to complicate his world, falls for the boss’s wife.

As a writer, Brady Udall is frequently compared to John Irving. In The Lonely Polygamist, he out-Irvings the original. Beautifully plotted domestic pathos and ripe sadness balance humour that’s more frequently bittersweet than laugh-out-loud.

Himself the great-great-grandson of a polygamist, Udall, clearly fond of his characters, affords them respect and sympathy. Chapters written from the perspective of 12-year-old Rusty provide an exact, honest portrayal of puberty’s awkward approach. Fourth, and much younger, wife Trish is lonely, likeable, and a little sexually frustrated. Golden himself shuffles along, a somnambulant antihero.

This cinematic epic could easily be The Corrections’ geeky, shy, clever sibling. It’s definitely a deserving new contender for The Great American Novel.