If dysfunctional fiction were a sub-genre of literature, Brady Udall would be its leading light. In his two novels to date, his characterisation of functional people has been spot-on. This book is full of dysfunctional characters whose dysfunctionalities litter the pages of this very well written book.
What makes Brady Udall’s writing stand out are two things; firstly, the sheer beauty of his characters’ humanity. In their clumsiness, they are not any less human. Secondly, his wry seems almost unforced. Let me declare my bias – Brady Udall is one of my favourite novelists, and his debut book, The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint is one of my favourites (I have read it thrice since it was first published). So you would understand my excitement when I randomly picked up The Lonely Polygamist and included it in my reading list for 2019.
This book is about a forty-five-year-old building contractor called Golden, who is the father of twenty-eight children, husband of four wives and a Mormon to boot. Brady Udall had grown up in the Mormon community, and that colourful background seems to churn out endless materials for his books. Golden’s large family is the canvas upon which the dysfunctionality of this book is painted.
Golden is not only dysfunctional but also socially inept. He naively navigates the world around him while ceding decision making to others and hoping for the best. While almost every character in the book is dysfunctional and a misfit, you cannot help rooting for them, and this is because of the humane way the author characterises each of them — all wounded persons seeking healing but wounding others more in the process while still hopeful for wholeness.
The hero of the lot is Rusty. How a child, one of the twenty-eight kids in the house, could be so deprived of attention and care is baffling. What is even more baffling is the length Rusty went to be acknowledged and failed until his very last days. His final explosive act has a profound effect on the whole family, one that leads each to a redemptive introspection. This is a beautiful book, and it is highly recommended.