Monday, July 22, 2013

Pilgrim's Wilderness by Tom Kizzia

McCarthy is a frontier outpost in Alaska where "Papa" Pilgrim (Robert Hale) arrived a decade ago with his wife and thirteen kids, settling in with the welcoming support of a small community that saw him as a hardworking, honest, even mesmerizing embodiment of Christian family values. His property was at an abandoned copper mine next to National Park Service land, but when he bulldozed a road that intruded on that land, the Park Service wrote him letters which went unanswered or unread. An escalation ensued, as Pilgrim began to call them names and to make threats if the "harassment" didn't end. Soon, the "devout religious man" began to look like David Koresh, and his clan either messianic followers or hostages and victims in need of rescue. His secret past, along with the nature of his sociopathy, is revealed in PILGRIM'S WILDERNESS, which has the subtitle "A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier." Author Tom Kizzia is a reporter turned author, formerly with the Anchorage Daily News. The simple grace of his writing style is augmented by his command of detail. He has ferreted out the truth, as was his task in The Wake of the Unseen Object, (and with an investigator's dogged tenacity.) What emerges is a never boring chronicle of the clash between government bureaucracy and fanatical individualism (gone nuts.) Links to old Texas money, the FBI, and the movie Easy Rider, along with abuse and incest, make up some of the surprises in a story that sounds like grist for an independent film that could make the rounds of festivals, winning awards along the way, (if not the attention of Hollywood, which is too busy making blockbusters featuring giant robots these days.) Especially gripping, after all the clash of environmentalists versus land rights, is the revelation of Robert Hale in the courtroom as a man who beat his daughter and told her she would go to hell if she didn't have sex with him. Unrepentant to the end, and even after all the damning testimony of his own children, Hale claimed to be a persecuted follower of Christ doing "the Lord's work." The judge didn't buy it. Neither did anyone else. So everyone who spoke at his graveside commended his soul---not to heaven---but to hell. Actor Fred Sanders narrates, with a documentarian tone guiding often very powerful words.

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