Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hating, then Loving Big Fat Books--an Ode to The Lonely Polygamist

Hurray! Our first copies of The Lonely Polygamist are in! Time to talk about it some more.

Several months ago, I mentioned that Amie and I attended Winter Institute in San Jose. One of the things I noticed that not only was there a big, fat buzz book, there three of them vying for attention. Knowing I could not possibly aim for all three, I put aside Justin Cronin's big, fat vampire novel, The Passage, and Karl Marlantes' big, fat Vietnam novel Matterhorn, and set my initial sites on Brady Udall's big, fat polygamy novel, The Lonely Polygamist?


1. Because he had the longest lines. Not just any lines (or I'd be reading xxxxxxxx xxxxxx's latest), but lines of outliers (yes, I'm appropriating Gladwell), folks who read and sell to that sweet spot where critical analysis meets emotional resonance.
2. Because Johanna told me to. I trust my Norton rep.
3. Because I still have remorse that I didn't read The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint.*
4. Because I'm sort of on a polygamy reading program, having read and enjoyed The Nineteenth Wife and The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives.

It turned out that I loved The Lonely Polygamist. It's the story of Golden Richards, inducted into the Principle by his father and now the proud husband to four wives and father to 28 children. The story is family dysfunction on a grand scale, told through the eyes of Golden, his wife Trish (the one mostly on the margins, she only has one child) and one son, Rusty, known to the rest of the family as "the little terrorist."

Golden's got a construction company, but his finances are little shakey. He takes a job he's not quite proud of (or maybe shame is the right word, as everybody in the family thinks he's doing senior housing), for a whorehouse. There's pressure to take wife number five, but meanwhile he probably needs to get the first four to stop feuding. And no, you don't exactly get to know all 28 kids all that well, but you get the feeling Golden doesn't know them that well either.

Udall, as you may know, wrote the piece for Esquire Magazine in 1998, which was titled "Big Love." Somebody got the idea from this piece for a little series on HBO. Supposedly Udall didn't get any credit--a little idea stealing, alas. I think he has a better case than the author of The Adventures of Willie the Wizard has.

Like Middlesex, Udall takes the other and makes it familiar, if not commonplace. His writing reminds me of Anne Tyler of all things, the befuddled patriarch who is not quite clear how he got where he did. It's a wonderful book, and I'm hoping for a great run.

And here's the strange thing. The book came in and it doesn't look all that fat. I'm still trying to figure this one out.

Here's an interview with Udall in Boise Weekly where he discussed the writing process, his background, and a bit about Boise.

*I met a bookseller at WI5 who told me he almost never rereads authors. It's mostly first novels and discoveries. After that, he's bored. So when I pushed Frederick Reiken's Day For Night on him, it was a good thing he hadn't read either The Odd Sea or The Lost Legends of New Jersey.

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