Book Review: 'The Lonely Polygamist'
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Maybe it was the HBO series "Big Love" that helped generate an audience for new novels about polygamist life. Until now, such stories have been few and far between in mainstream publishing. Novelist Brady Udall will help even more.
Our reviewer Alan Cheuse says Udall's second novel, "The Lonely Polygamist," gives us the American family novel to the Nth degree.
ALAN CHEUSE: The lonely guy of the title, Golden Richards, oversees four wives and 28 children in two big houses in a remote territory of the Virgin River Valley in southwest Utah. As the novel opens, his already tentative grasp on the family reins is loosening even more, leaving him vulnerable to temptations outside his marriages and sending some of his wives and children on the path toward confusion and danger, and drawing the reader into a world of wavering belief in problematic polygamy.
Simply add up the number of wives and children in this book and you get a cast of Dickensian proportions. Papa Golden himself has to use a mnemonic chant to recall all the names of his children - Emm, Nephi, Heleman, Naomi, Josephine -it goes on and on.
But though Udall mostly works in a gentle, satirical tone, he feels all too deeply for Golden Richards dilemma, which is - how to enlarge your capacity for love in a world that demands that it be huge every waking and sleeping moment. The novelist's affection for his protagonist and his sensitivity to his domestic despair yields characters and scenes that are precise and unfailingly rewarding. And Udall has that gift for writing sinuous and convincing sentences that convey his affection without compromising clarity or truth.
Now, marriage is a traditionally comic subject and Udall gives us such comedy multiplied by four or five. Here's a long novel about big family and bigger and bigger love, though I can't say my attention ever flagged.
BLOCK: The book is "The Lonely Polygamist" by Brady Udall. Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University.