12 reviews

The Lonely Polygamist: A Novel
by Brady Udall

Published: 2010-05-03
Hardcover : 602 pages
35 members reading this now
24 clubs reading this now
8 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 10 of 12 members
"A serious contender for Great American Novel status"--Publishers Weekly

“A brilliantly crafted mini-epic that is at turns hilarious, terrifying, and heartbreaking . . . Cinematic . . . A potential classic.” — Associated Press

From a luminous storyteller, a highly anticipated new ...

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"A serious contender for Great American Novel status"--Publishers Weekly

“A brilliantly crafted mini-epic that is at turns hilarious, terrifying, and heartbreaking . . . Cinematic . . . A potential classic.” — Associated Press

From a luminous storyteller, a highly anticipated new novel about the American family writ large. Golden Richards, husband to four wives, father to twenty-eight children, is having the mother of all midlife crises. His construction business is failing, his family has grown into an overpopulated mini-dukedom beset with insurrection and rivalry, and he is done in with grief: due to the accidental death of a daughter and the stillbirth of a son, he has come to doubt the capacity of his own heart. Brady Udall, one of our finest American fiction writers, tells a tragicomic story of a deeply faithful man who, crippled by grief and the demands of work and family, becomes entangled in an affair that threatens to destroy his family's future. Like John Irving and Richard Yates, Udall creates characters that engage us to the fullest as they grapple with the nature of need, love, and belonging.

Beautifully written, keenly observed, and ultimately redemptive, The Lonely Polygamist is an unforgettable story of an American family--with its inevitable dysfunctionality, heartbreak, and comedy--pushed to its outer limits.

Amazon Best Books of the Month, May 2010: EmNephiHelamanNaomiJosephinePaulineNovellaParleyGale... When times get tense--and they often do--for Golden Richards, the title patriarch of Brady Udall's The Lonely Polygamist, he turns to a soothing chant of the names, in order, of his 28 children. (It's also practical, when he needs to sort out just which toddler is showing him a scab, and which teen is asking if he can come to her 4-H demo.) While Big Love seeks the inherent soap opera in a man with many wives, Udall finds the slapstick: Golden's houses are the sort of places where the dog is often wearing underwear and a child or two likely isn't. But Udall doesn't settle just for jokes (though the jokes are excellent). Golden may be hapless, distracted, and deceitful, but he is large-hearted and so is his story. There's menace and more than a full share of tragedy there, as well as unabashed redemption and a particular sympathy for the loneliest members of this crowded family. With a fresh and faultless ear for American vernacular, Udall's big tale of beset manhood effortlessly earns its comparisons to tragicomic family classics from The Corrections to John Irving. --Tom Nissley

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


To put it as simply as possible: this is the story of a polygamist who has an affair. But there is much more to it than that, of course; the life of any polygamist, even when not complicated by lies and secrets and infidelity, is anything but simple. Take, for example, the Friday night in early spring when Golden Richards returned to Big House—one of three houses he called home—after a week away on the job. It should have been the sweetest, most wholesome of domestic scenes: a father arrives home to the loving attentions of his wives and children. But what was about to happen inside that house, Golden realized as he pulled up into the long gravel drive, would not be wholesome or sweet, or anything close to it. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the Publisher:

1.What were your views on polygamy before reading the book? Did they change after you finished reading?
2.Discuss Golden’s progression from lonely polygamist to social polygamist. How does a renewal of faith assist this transformation?
3.Compare and contrast Golden’s behavior at the two funerals. How are they similar? In what ways are they different?
4.How does Glory affect the other family members and Golden in particular?
5.Discuss the motifs of creation and destruction that appear throughout the novel.
6.Do you think Rusty is a representative figure for all of the Richards children in the novel, or is he in some ways unique?
7.Trish is one of the most conflicted mothers in the novel. What do you think of her decision at the end? Was it the right thing to do?
8.How has the family changed at the conclusion of the novel? Do you think they are happy with their decisions?
9.Discuss Rose-of-Sharon’s reaction to Rusty’s accident. Do you think you would have reacted the same way if you were in her place?
10.Why do you think Golden isn’t able to consummate his affair with Huila?
11.Physical appearance is described with exacting clarity throughout the novel. Golden is described as bucktoothed and “Sasquatch,” and Glory as “lopsided” and “overstuffed.” Why do you think there is such a heightened awareness of the body?
12.What is the effect of polygamy on the women in the novel? How do you think their lives and personalities would be different if they weren’t in a polygamous relationship?

Suggested by Members

Is polygamy a legitimate alternative heterosexual choice?
If gay marriage is determined to be a civil right, should polygamist marriages also be recognized civilly?
by Dawn Lepire (see profile) 08/03/10

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Interview woth Brady Udall:

An Interview with Brady Udall

Q: Why did you decide to take your nonfiction article that first appeared in Esquire in 1998 and was originally titled “Big Love” and make it into a novel?

My novel is not based on my Esquire piece, exactly, but the research I did for the piece was the basis for The Lonely Polygamist (there’s a distinction there if you look for it). I have a strong family connection to polygamy, but I had no real understanding of how polygamy is lived today, and after doing the research and writing the article there was no question my next novel would be about contemporary polygamy. This all occurred well before the wave of fascination with polygamy in this country, and I thought it was something I absolutely had to write about, to call attention to in a fair, nonjudgmental and (hopefully) compelling way.

Q: You’ve said that you wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for polygamy. What do you mean?

My great-great-grandfather, David King Udall, was a polygamist. His second wife, Ida Hunt Udall, was my great-great-grandmother. So it’s pretty straightforward: if polygamy didn’t exist, neither would I. It seemed only right, then, that I should write a novel on the subject.

Q: Are you Mormon? What was your own family dynamic like?

I grew up in a devout Mormon family, and as one of nine children I had firsthand experience with what life is like in an oversized family. This experience certainly served me well in writing the book.

Q: You spent time among polygamists while researching this novel. Did you go into the experience expecting a certain way of life?

Oh yeah. I figured I’d meet a lot of megalomaniacal men with their shirts buttoned up to their necks, and their meek, cow-eyed wives (the ones with the pioneer dresses and weird hairdos). I have to say I was almost disappointed when these people turned out to be nice, everyday, regular folks, hardly distinguishable from the rest of the populace. For example, one of the families I got to know best lived in suburban Salt Lake in several well-appointed town homes. They drove minivans and wore jeans and standard modern American regalia. The husband was a businessman, and of the four wives one was a lawyer, one had a PhD, one owned a heath-food store, and one was a stay-at-home mom. Did I mention they had thirty children? What I found out was that these were normal people living in a very abnormal way, and I most wanted to understand how they managed to live that way, the sacrifices and compromises they all had to make to uphold such an extreme lifestyle.

Q: Rusty is a fascinating character—he’s an isolated little boy dying for the attention of his distant parents. What inspired you to create this character?

While most of us are fascinated with the hows and whats and whys of the way in which the adults navigate this lifestyle, the children are often forgotten. And I think it’s the children who suffer most in these situations. In such a crowd, it’s easy to get lost—I can attest to this from personal experience. Though I had my difficulties, I fared okay as a kid in my own oversized family. As I see it, Rusty is the kid I might have turned into had I been ignored, lost in the shuffle, left completely to my own devices. And I’ll say this: though Rusty’s circumstances are very difficult in the book, and were sometimes hard for me as a writer to face, I’ve never had so much fun writing a character.

Q: A recent National Geographic article suggested that polygamy actually has many qualities of a matriarchy and not, as many people assume, a patriarchy. To what extent do you think this portrayal is accurate?

I think it’s accurate in the sense that just as with monogamy, there are any number of permutations to plural marriage. In some marriages the husband is the unquestioned leader. In others, a single wife, or the wives as a group, run the show. It’s all about how the different personalities relate to one another. In the time I spent with different polygamist families, I saw extreme differences in family dynamics and culture. Because of the size of some of the families, I often felt like an anthropologist studying a tribe with its own unique politics and hierarchies and mores. It was fascinating.

Q: Why do you think people are fascinated by polygamy?

In one word: sex.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Great topic of discussion!"by Gay W. (see profile) 01/27/11

  "The Lonely Polygamist"by Jan R. (see profile) 01/26/11

by Tonya C. (see profile) 05/31/18

  "The Lonely Polygamist"by Sandy B. (see profile) 04/20/12

I thought it was a slow starter. But once Rusty and June came into the picture it got more interesting. I had some LOL moments when Rusty was in the picture. Thought the ending was sad. Most of our club... (read more)

  "Got me from the first page"by Katie D. (see profile) 08/29/11

I was hooked right off the bat & Udall kept my attention the whole way through.

  "The Lonely Polygamist"by Kim M. (see profile) 08/09/11

Unforgettable characters in tragic situations.

  "Funny book"by Lisa H. (see profile) 05/03/11

Funny book about a way-out lifestyle. Ended up feeling sorry for the guy..........

  "Definitely Not Boring or Poorly Written!"by Karen C. (see profile) 01/11/11

Brady Udall's descriptive prose occasionally reminds me of John Steinbeck. This novel is very humorous, poignant, and bittersweet, and at times, has exasperating characters who make bad choices and do... (read more)

  "The Lonely Polygamist"by Shirley H. (see profile) 10/20/10

  "A different take on "Big Love""by Carin B. (see profile) 09/15/10

It was a touch wordier and longer than necessary; however, the book had an entertaining ending on a subject matter that is pretty interesting.

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