Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The Scholar of Moab by Stephen Peck

Young Hyrum Thayne, an unrefined geological surveyor, steals a massive dictionary out of the Grand County library in a midnight raid, startling the good people of Moab into believing a nefarious band of Book of Mormon thugs, the Gadianton Robbers, has arisen again. To make matters worse, Hyrum’s illicit affair with Dora Tanner, a local poet thought to be mad, results in the delivery of a bouncing baby boy who vanishes the night of his birth. Righteous Moabites accuse Dora of the murder, but who really killed their child? Did a coyote dingo the baby? Was it an alien abduction as Dora claims? Was it Hyrum? Or could it have been the only witness to the crime, one of a pair of Oxford-educated conjoined twins who cowboy in the La Sals on sabbatical?

Take a blazing ride with Hyrum LeRoy Thayne, the Lord’s Chosen Servant and Defender of Moab. His short rich life spans the borderlands of magical realism where geology, ecology philosophy, and consciousness collide, in Steven L. Peck’s rip-snorting tale The Scholar of Moab.

From Amazon Description.

This book is unlike any of the other books I have read on this magic realism challenge. It is tremendous fun to read and definitely on the weird end of the magic realism spectrum. There are few books which have had me laughing out loud, but the Scholar's experiment - in which he measures the faith of bumblebees - had me guffawing.  

The story is told through a series of documents drawn together by the anonymous Redactor. This allows the author the opportunity to write in a wide range of voices, from the uneducated Hyrum, to the highly educated William (one of the conjoined twins) via the poetic and alternative Dora. It also allows us to see the story of the missing child and Hyrum's rise to status of Scholar and Moabite hero through conflicting eyes, even Hyrum's account is not all it seems. Peck gives a virtuoso performance in writing in these different voices. I got the distinct impression that he was  enjoying himself writing as much as I did reading. 

The characters are slowly revealed through the course of the book. Dora at first appears to be a crazy poet, but by the end of the book we see her as probably the most trustworthy of all the characters. Peck's book is an object lesson in the use of dramatic irony.

The book's surrealism and multi-voice format allow the exploration of a host of themes, such as the nature of consciousness (a specialism of the conjoined cowboy scholars), religious and scientific belief, and the relationship between religion and science. The book is grounded in Mormonism. The book is set in the small-town mormonism and gently satirizes the faith and attitudes of that community. As a Brit, alas,  I am sure many allusions escaped me. But it was clear that this is a world in which people can believe in alien abductions,communist conspiracies and all sorts of hokum. A world ideally suited to the magic realist treatment. 

It is a tribute to the author's skill that despite the fact that the book is written in a range of voices and styles, I still got a strong impression of the landscape in which the book is set.  The Hyrum works for a geological survey team and Dora is inspired by the area. 

My only qualm about the book was the ending, which I find somewhat unsatisfying. I have been trying to work out why, but so far have failed to do so. 

I was given this book by the author in return for an h0nest review. 

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