Brady Udall has created a polygamist patriarch who evokes reader pity rather than condemnation. Just imagine a man who comes home from work every night to have 27 children jump on him and four wives mad at him. I chortled through the first half of this novel—George said I even laughed in my dreams after reading myself to sleep. Midway through, I realized Udall’s book is more than humor. Anyone who has grown up in a large family or tried parenting one can identify with the strain in the households of Golden Richards. While few Americans practice traditional polygamy, let’s face it, many American families exist in a kind of serial polygamy which includes step-children and half-siblings as well as ex-husbands and wives. Anyone who has been part of a blended family will recognize the intense rivalry in the Richards family of too many half and whole brothers and sisters.
My favorite character in the novel, 11-year-old Rusty—the neglected troublemaker—understands what the adults in his family do not: An eternity of living with people you can’t get along with in this life is not much of a blessing.
Udall’s fictional Living Church of God is a polygamous group that incorporates contemporary Mormon practices—Bible and Mormon scriptures in one volume, Family Home Evening, singing a hymn when tempted. Their answer to the question of why God asks them to live the law of plural marriage is that it teaches them to be unselfish and that doing difficult things is spiritually beneficial.
Their religious community comforts the polygamist families as they try to cope with the problems their life style creates, but God never steps in to help. For all their faith and attempts to keep His commandments, God pretty much leaves these characters to help themselves—and each other. Redemption comes to these people, not from God, but from the bond that unites them and from the satisfaction of doing their duty as they understand it.
Udall’s language and situations may be a bit edgy for some Mormon readers, but—Hey! It’s not a YA novel.