Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Book Review: "The Lonely Polygamist" by Brady Udall

I really wanted to like this book. I have always found the idea of plural marriage rather appealing. There are more women than men. I always thought it would be cool to be married to someone who wasn't necessarily there ALL the time. I love the idea of “sister-wives” to share in the work and the burden of housework and childcare. The drawbacks are obvious, but – in a kind of theoretical way – I think it should be a legal an option for those people who want to undertake that lifestyle.

I know nothing about Mormonism at all. I hoped this book would open a window into a culture that is a mystery to me, without being exploitative or disgusting (like the TV show Big Love). After reading the book, I don't know any more about Mormonism than I did at the beginning. The author assumes that the reader knows more than the typical non-Mormon would know about the religion that gave rise to the plural marriage lifestyle. That was a huge liability because it's hard to understand why people would make the sacrifices they do in this story without understanding the religious underpinings of “the Principle” they live by.

The characters were not very appealing. There were no characters in the story that I felt drawn to root for, with the possible exception of June. On the contrary, most of the characters were downright unlikeable, including (especially) Golden. I couldn't understand why the women were so devoted to someone so unappealing in every possible way.

I finished the book, sad and mystified. Sad because there was a Truth in the storyline about the neglected and abused child, whom no one loved while he was alive becoming the object of such an outpouring of grief in death. Mystified because I didn't get the point of the story.

A few days later, reading the newspaper about some wack-a-doodle fundamentalists in the Middle East, I realized that perhaps the point of the story was that for the people in this novel, like religious fundamentalists of all stripes, the important thing was living “the Principle” in the manner it was handed to them, without contemplating the meaning or purpose of that Principle, and without regard to the cost to the individual or others (including, especially their children). They accepted a lifestyle and a religion that was handed to them by others, without reflection or critical thought, and lived it – despite the enormous toll it took on all their lives – as though it alone could “save” them. 

I still don't know any more about Mormonism than I did before (although I liked the marriage ceremony), but I know a few regular Christians who act out their religion in exactly the same obedient and uncritical way, to their peril. 

The book left me feeling sad and rather hopeless.

1 comment:

  1. This book was beautifully written. It reminded me of Big Love, yet seemed to play up the tragedy of polygamy more. Certain parts were hard to read. Yet Udall does a good job showing how plural marriage impacts, perhaps most of all, the many children who can't really find a niche for themselves, or sufficient affection.