When I was at the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute Conference earlier this year there was enormous buzz among all the booksellers and publishers over two books. The first was Karl Marlantes’ MATTERHORN (which was magnificent) and the other was THE LONELY POLYGAMIST by Brady Udall.
I am completely unreligious. In fact I would describe myself as a staunch atheist, so reading a book about Mormons and polygamists didn’t really appeal to me. However a bookseller at the Winter Institute did claim that THE LONELY POLYGAMIST was going to be this year’s MIDDLESEX. For me this meant I had to give the book a go, no questions.
The protagonist of the novel, Golden Richards, is a gentle giant who more or less has fallen into polygamy. How do you fall into polygamy you ask? Well, Golden is a simple man who just needs someone to tell him what to do. His dying father told him to marry his first wife and the leaders of his church (along with his first wife) helped him pick out three others. His four wives have his life running to a strict schedule (which when you have 28 kids and three separate households is pretty important). But Golden complicates this already complex and unusual arrangement when he meets another woman and starts to contemplate having an affair.
This book is no MIDDLESEX (I have been trying to figure out why the comparison was made). It is more in the mould of Richard Russo and the fact that it is set in a polygamist community in the 1970s that while not initially appealing heightens the family dynamic and adds quirkiness that hooks you. This is a great American novel and is one of the funniest books I have read in ages. It also moves seamlessly between laugh-out-loud comedy and a deeply moving portrait of family. Put simply it is utterly brilliant.
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