Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist (TLP) left me in a love conundrum.
Until page 545 of this ribald and entertaining, mostly marital arts novel, Udall sounds a lot like a Mormon John Irving. Then you read the following lines, the climax of the novel, and you realize he’s also an LDS John Donne:
“Because this, after all, was the basic truth they all chose to live by: that love was no finite commodity. That it was not subject to the cruel reckoning of addition and subtraction, that to give to one did not necessarily mean to take from another; that the heart, in its infinite capacity–even the confused and cheating heart of the man in front of her, even the paltry thing now clenched and faltering inside her own chest–could open itself to all who would enter, like a house with windows and doors thrown wide, like the heart of God itself, vast and accommodating and holy, a mansion of rooms without number, full of multitudes without end.”
When I finished this paragraph I dropped the bookmarker between these pages, closed the book and blinked tears from my eyes. Yes, I said to myself. Again … Yes. But what happened next could not have been more Brady Udall. While pondering these beautiful words, none other than Christian, the character from Moulin Rouge, appeared in my mind’s eye and ear, saying:
“Above all things I believe in love. Love is like oxygen. Love is a many splendored thing. Love lifts us up where we belong! All you need is Love! “
It was then that I wondered whether the pearls on Udall’s sublime string of sentiments were any more valuable than the ridiculous lyrics strung together by Christian along his pop candy necklace.
I concluded that TLP was an even more clever work than I thought as it knowingly undermines its own climactic statement by its two main supporting characters, Trish and Rusty. Each is driven to extreme, destructive behavior because the love of Golden Richards is, as a matter of fact, not infinite like the love of God, but a finite commodity, ladled out like rations to his love-starved spouses and offspring who can never get enough. Richards no doubt felt infinite love for each member of his family, a family so large it resembled a football team listed in a program line-up–the novel even comes with a flow chart inserted after the title page, reminding the reader of the players on the “offensive and defensive” teams. His love for his handicapped daughter Glory (appearance, no doubt, courtesy of Flannery O’Connor) epitomizes this. But his family members could only feel Golden’s love in finite ways, limited by the boundaries of his time and space.
So I ask you, what is love, if not a feeling expressed, yet also received, in time and space? Have I misread TLP?