Udall in the family
“It was a very controlled atmosphere, and because of the many raids and bad publicity the church has experienced, I can see why they were tight-lipped and suspicious about my motives as a writer.”
Udall had no interest in crafting a novel about plural marriage and sexual abuse. He set out to write a book about American families. Using polygamy as his backdrop and gut-busting humor as his secret weapon allowed Udall to exaggerate family dynamics and expose the dysfunctional nature of all blood-relation households, regardless of how they are formed or managed.
“Honestly, even after the Esquire article, I entered into my book research thinking I would run into a bunch of weirdos and wackedout sexual degenerates dressed in strange clothes,” he said. “What I actually found was a group of relatively normal-acting and normal-looking people just trying to keep their families happy and together. And I felt that polygamist families, while oftentimes larger than most families and operating under a different parental and religious credo, deserved to be approached with fairness and objectivity. That’s a responsibility I took very seriously.”
The Lonely Polygamist focuses intently on floundering real-estate salesman Golden and his mounting responsibilities as the main breadwinner of numerous households. (His secret job is building an addition to a brothel called the Pussycat Manor, where he confronts sexual temptations that test his family loyalty.) However, it is Golden’s 11-year-old son, Rusty, who provides the clearest picture of the chaos, yearning to belong, and sibling rivalry found in many large families. “If you were to ask the boy what he is waiting for,” Udall writes, “he wouldn’t be able to tell you. He is waiting for a meteor strike, a tornado, a full-scale zombie invasion, anything to rescue him from this room, this house, these people.”
But don’t feel too sorry for Rusty. He’s “the family terrorist” — “a liar, a loudmouth, a thief, an instigator, a Peeping Tom, a crybaby, a snoop.” Udall frames “the boy,” as Rusty is often referred to, as the insufferable sufferer of polygamy. “Too often child narrators are overly smart or sweet,” Udall said. “And children of polygamist homes are often perceived as victims by people who only know them from what they see on the news. But real kids — even kids growing up like Rusty does, with multiple mothers to straighten them out — can be total jerks, brats. You know, really unpleasant people.” So, is Rusty autobiographical? “I’d say there are probably small similarities between Rusty and me, but I’d like to believe I wasn’t as much of a troublemaker at his age.” Wouldn’t we all.