No discussion of the contemporary Mormon novel could happen today without some comment on Bady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist, a nationally-published novel that looks at modern polygamy in Southern Utah. In many ways, The Lonely Polygamist is unlike other contemporary Mormon novels because it does not address contemporary mainstream Mormonism, but rather a fringe group that has no official ties to the Mormon Church. In fact, throughout the novel, the mainstream church is church is characterized as a monolithic sell-out denomination that lacks the authority and blessing of God. At the same time, however, Udall–who comes out of a mainstream tradition–does much to draw parallels between his polygamist sect and mainstream Mormons; in fact, I would argue that the novel itself uses polygamy as a way to exaggerate many of the cultural dilemmas within contemporary mainstream Mormon life: large families, the continuing legitimacy of patriarchy, interaction with non-Mormons, and the construction and definition of cultural boundaries and limitations.
At the same time, however, Udall situates these issues within the broader culture of post-war America. In fact, while Udall’s polygamists are mostly separate from their Southern Utah mainstream community–which itself is largely separate from the rest of America–they nevertheless cannot avoid the intrusion of something like American popular culture. Romance novels, for example, run rampant through the novel, primarily for the way they privilege and romanticize monogamous heterosexuality, but also how they construct and affirm traditional gender roles–which contrasts significantly to the way Udall’s polygamists live, providing even a form of escape for one wife, beset by depression, who consistently fails to find the promised meaning and blessing in her non-traditional marriage.
Continue reading “Thoughts on The Lonely Polygamist as Hysterical Realism”
Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist (Amazon) (AMV review) has been making a splash. As of this writing, it’s holding on to the last spot of the NYTBSL and I’ve been seeing articles about Udall all over the interwebz.
Here at A Motley Vision, we are “devoted to exploring the world of Mormon arts and culture. Or to be more specific: Mormon literature, criticism, publishing and marketing — plus film, theater, art, music, and pop and folk culture” (cite) and generally we interpret this to mean the culture of faithful Mormons.
With Brady Udall, whom, many of those reports report, is rather less faithful (at least as compared to his wife and kids, apparently), the question arises: How do faithful Mormons (interested in the arts or not) view our less faithful artists?
Continue reading “Brady Udall’s Paranoia: Is there a culture war between Mormons going on?”
Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist (Amazon) is in stores this week and early buzz is good. Will it claim title as the Great American Novel? Will it be this year’s big bestseller? Will it successfully lower our cholesterol? I don’t have answers to these questions, but I will say it’s a book that could keep an academic busy for a long long time. Were I employed by a university (which, as my administration constantly reminds me, I am not), then this book, even on one read, would give me enough juice for a dozen papers. I have one in my head about minor characters Nelson and Nestor, for instance, that I am not planning on sharing with you or, indeed, ever writing ever.
This is a good place to point out that what I am writing today is not really a “review” so much as analysis of one core aspect of The Lonely Polygamist. If you must have a review, roll over here, but I want to be the first to publicly taste the meat. That said, be aware that this post will include some minor spoilers—though not many when you consider the opening line of the book is “To put it as simply as possible: this is the story of a polygamist who has an affair” which affair does not show up for a long long time.
Disclaimer: I am reviewing an ARC sent me by the publisher, W W Norton. This copy was free and, being early, had some obvious copyediting errors still in its pages. It is thus possible that I am perpetuating errors in the quotations below and that what I’ve typed will not match your own copy. Just so you know.
Continue reading “The Radioactive Family”