The novel begins with Helen's wedding atop a cliff at Nuchu's Landing to Chakor Desai, an Indian poet with whom she becomes besotted after returning temporarily to tiny Smoot's Pass from her home in Houston to help open an arts center.
Never mind that Helen is already married to a much older Mormon who sees himself as having rescued her and she him after they encounter one another at a Salt Lake City MacFrugal's store where Helen worked as a teenage runaway.
Helen mostly conceals her bigamy from those around her, but knows she eventually must decide between her two husbands, each of whom has attributes she needs and wants. She's neither devious nor particularly deceitful but rather confused, and unsure why she has to choose.
Helen's state is one in which many people find themselves in today's world, according to Arnold, who essentially sees Chakor and Larry Janx Helen's first husband as allegories.
They are Helen's blue- and red-state mates. "Our nation so often is portrayed as a place of extremes, but it's much more complicated than that," Arnold says. "It's possible to love what's traditional in the liberal character and to love what's open-minded in the conservative character."
Through the course of the book, Helen also discovers what she needs and wants for her life in a progression of characters who make fleeting but meaningful appearances in Sweet Land of Bigamy.
Kathleen Talbot, for example, appears just once in the novel, in a beauty shop conversation about life choices. A high school history teacher, Talbot offers insight about the Robert Frost poem "The Road Less Traveled" to Helen and the shop's young proprietor.
The poem is wrong, Kathleen tells the two women. "What you want to do whenever you see two roads before you is take off down through the brush between them. Because God knows it's miserable being defined by a road, no matter how little travelled it is."
That, in essence, is the message of Arnold's book: Find the middle ground. It offers the most promise the most hope.
Miah Arnold: 'Sweet Land of Bigamy'
When • Friday, July 27 at 7 p.m.
Where • The King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City