The Next Chapter: The Lonely Polygamist and Other Literary Families

Don Levy

I just finished reading a very funny yet poignant novel called The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. It’s about Golden Richards who is married to four wives, has over 20 kids and is tempted to have an affair with his boss’s wife. The book has layers upon layers of irony as well as some very touching moments. There are also some twist and turns in it that you don’t expect. I think my biggest complaint is that I don’t think the book had to be 600 pages long. I think there are some chapters that should haveĀ been trimmed and it still would be a good book. If, though, you aren’t a fan of non-traditional families, here are a couple of recommendations for other books for you.

Death in the Family by James Agee is an unfinished book published posthumously. It is a semi-autobiographical novel based on when Agee’s father died in a car accident in 1917. It’s about the impact a family member’s death on the entire family. It’s a beautifully written short book that won the Pulitzer in 1958.

I am not a big Faulkner fan. I only got to page two of The Sound and The Fury but the book of his that I love the most is As I Lay Dying. Published in 1930, it is a story told stream of consciousness through 15 characters about how the Brunden family keeps their promise to their dying mother Addie to have her buried in Jefferson, Mississippi with her family. The trip to bury Addie isn’t an easy one. Cash breaks his leg and has to ride on top of his mom’s casket and the coffin almost falls into a river while crossing it. Despite it being about a road trip to bury Addie, it’s a very funny book.

Irwin Shaw is a mostly forgotten author. I think his novels are thought of as being “old hat”. Still, I remember as a teenager enjoying Rich Man, Poor Man. It’s mainly about the Jordashe brothers, Rudolph, the good son and Thomas, the “black sheep” of the family. I remember I really liked the book. Unfortunately, I never got to see the 1976 miniseries with Peter Strauss and Nick Nolte when it first came out.

I know The Glass Castle by Jeanette Wallis is a popular memoir but I prefer The Liar’s Club by Mary Carr published in 1995 better. It tells the story of her childhood growing up in Southeast Texas during the ’60s. It centers on the marriage between her alcoholic father and her flighty mother. What I really like is that even though the mom does some reprehensible things, by the end of the book you realize what happened to her mom to make her that way. Be forewarned that there are 2 rape scenes in the book, but they are definitely not sensationalized at all. Plus, as a kid, Mary was obsessed with G and H Green Stamps, just like I was at the time.

The last book about families I want to recommend is The Corrections by Jonathan Frazen. It won the National Book Award in 2001 and was originally emblazoned with an Oprah Book Club sticker later on until Frazen complained about it in an interview. The novel is about how the matriarch of a small Midwestern family, Enid Lambert tries to get her kids Gary, Chip and Denise to come home for one last Christmas together. I really liked it, although I don’t think Frazen treats his female characters very well and sometimes seems very smug at times.

When putting this blog together, I asked my friends about books about families they would recommend and they gave me some good feedback. Some of the books they recommended included Ordinary People, The World According to Garp, American Pastoral, Franny and Zooey, The Grapes of Wrath and Spencer’s Mountain by Earl Hammer, which became the inspiration for the tv show The Waltons. I want to thank my friends for so many great recommendations. I hope all my readers find a book about families that interests and Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

  • Howard Kogan

    A Death in the Family is one of my favorite books. Great job, Don