Udall in the fam­ily

Pasatiempo - - Mixed Media - Rob DeWalt The New Mex­i­can

“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.

Brady Udall

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