lonely polygamist, who, with four wives and 28 children, has all but lost control. As Udall tells us about halfway through the novel, "(Golden's) very life, including his marriages to his wives, his children, his church position, was none of his own doing." Indeed, his life is a combination of a careful orchestration by his wives of where to be and when, and putting out fires caused by misbehaving kids and a failing construction business. Dude just can't get a moment to himself to relax!
Brady Udall's irony rich (starting with the title!), tragi-comedy novel is a fantastic (if a bit lengthy) read. Believe it or not, Golden is one of the more sympathetically pathetic characters I've read in a while. Will he ever be able to take control of his life? Here's a great detail to illustrate just how much he's been emasculated: His first wife Beverly, who rules the brood, has placed instructional signs everywhere in Old House (where she lives with her litter of 10), most notably above the toilet: "Golden, Please Take A Seat." Poor guy can't even pee like a man.
Really, the gum-in-the-pubic-hair (the reader does know how it got there, and it's hilarious) is a rather inventive metaphor for Golden's life — it's tangled beyond relief. And, other than making a clean break/cut, he has no idea how to extract himself. Despite being surrounded with his family, he's lost the emotional attachment to them, and starts looking elsewhere to relieve his loneliness.
Compounding the loneliness theme of the novel is the interspersed narratives of two other characters. One is Golden's 12-year-old son Rusty, who is a misunderstood miscreant who tries on his sisters' underwear, steals things from his siblings and generally misbehaves as a sincere cry out for attention. Golden's young and beautiful fourth wife, Trish, also is just beginning to realize the true degree of her own loneliness. She grew up in a polygamist sect and vowed never to live that life herself, but after an abusive first marriage, her mother has convinced her to join Golden's family for security and emotional support. She's getting neither, and she may soon look elsewhere, too?
But this is really Golden's story, and again, it's equal parts funny and sad. This novel had gotten great reviews when it came out last year, but I put it off because I was worried that it might be a "look how bizarre polygamy is" story in which I'd have to keep track of a War-and-Peace-like number of characters. Not the case. Udall doesn't totally ignore the "abnormality" of the Richards clan, mentioning awkward moments for Golden here and there in the community at large, and that Rusty gets teased at school for being a "plyg kid." But it's really a story of how Golden, Trish and Rusty combat their loneliness. And it's really good. Highly recommended!