Vail Daily books: Big love in a big book
Vail Daily Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – The line between fact and fiction was an apparition to a young Brady Udall. Stories were what mattered, and they abounded among the gaggle of brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and extended family he grew up with in northern Arizona.
“There was a lot of storytelling going on, and it wasn’t what you would call … factual,” he said, chuckling. “I could never distinguish whether it really happened or not, and I didn’t really care. If it was a good story, then it was good for me.”
And it was good for the fiction writer Udall became. His second novel and third work of fiction, “The Lonely Polygamist,” is enthusiastically recommended across the country, from booksellers and librarians to bloggers and reviewers. He’ll be in Edwards on Wednesday to share the story.
Udall’s new book, which imagines the daily life and family drama of a polygamist, his four wives and 28 children, was not inspired by recent media accounts of the isolated religious sect or its clashes with contemporary American culture. Rather, the writer started telling the story from his own experience.
“Without polygamy, I don’t exist,” says Udall, explaining that his great-great grandfather was a polygamist, and he is a descendent of the second wife of that marriage. That might be a seldom told story were it not for Outside magazine, which asked Udall to write about his family’s past in 1998.
“I wrote about modern polygamy rather than my family,” Udall says. But during the research, he met with families living all over the west. “They weren’t like what I thought they would be like.”
And that was the seed. Not the “weird, creepy” polygamy story Udall says has caught the national media’s attention, but instead, the idea of what it is like to manage such a family.
Management is probably the best word for the situation of Golden Richards, a man in mid-life crisis and without an A-type personality or a direct line to God. He can’t possibly keep three households and all those people in line by himself. He hasn’t made a decision in years.
To simplify things under the guise of providing for his family, he finds work out of town and lets the women take charge. Meanwhile, he falls for the exotic wife of his maniacal boss and lives in an Airstream.
But the story deepens as the reader befriends Rusty, the fifth son (dubbed the family terrorist) who has missed his father’s affection for too long, and of Glory, the ninth daughter who is severely disabled at birth and whose life is cut short under her father’s watch.
While some compare Udall’s work to that of John Irving and Jeffery Eugenides – citing the found balance of humor and pathos – the writer himself looks to poets like Shakespeare and Chaucer for inspiration.
“Humor is the most important thing, it’s the first thing I think about, even in the saddest, darkest scene,” Udall said. And while it doesn’t come easily – and perhaps at all to some writers – the reader comes to understand Golden, Rusty and Glory more deeply because the way they see the world is precisely as the reader might.
And while Udall brings Mormon literature to the mainstream without marginalizing the plot or the characters, he is a master at layering the experience of those characters against the time and place in which they live, against what will inevitably become our history.
In his first novel, “The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint” Udall juxtaposes the hardscrabble reservation life of an Apache boy with that of his adoptive family’s LDS missionary ways.
And similarly, although more foreboding, Udall parallels the experience of the unwieldy family of Golden Richards with the reckless and eschewed pattern of nuclear testing in the 1950s, which continues to plague the people of the rural southwest.
In both novels, it was the untold story that Udall hoped to bring to life. And whether history happens to people who demonstrate it, or to those who want to keep it to themselves, it still happens and it still is part of the American experience.
“People can relate to things that are quite far outside of their experience, provided it is well done and emotionally relevant,” he says. Because, in the end, it’s the story that matters.
Who: Brady Udall, author of “The Lonely Polygamist.”
What: Meet the author talk and book signing.
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: The Bookworm of Edwards.
Tickets: $20 and include wine and appetizers.
More information: Call 970-926-7323 or visit http://www.bookwormofedwards.com