Monday, February 3, 2014

"Pilgrim's Wilderness" by Tom Kizzia

I wanted to like Pilgrim's Wilderness more than I did. Maybe the idea of reading about a crazy, isolationist Fundamentalist family who battled heads with the National Parks Service (and many others) in their attempt to live in Alaska sounds more interesting than the sad and pathetic truth. That Christian fanatics are often the worst kind of hypocrites, and the revelations of "Papa Pilgrim's" sexual assaults, physical abuse, and psychological manipulation against his wife and 15 children are utterly expected.

In fact, I had a hard time reading the book at times because any word or letter from Papa or the family made me cringe and gag. Even worse, they manipulated many Alaskans' strong feelings about property rights and lack of government oversight for their own purposes, preying on many decent people in the process. Kizzia isn't an impartial observer about the family--after hearing the whole story, no one can really be with the Pilgrims--but he also clearly comes down favorably on the National Park Service's efforts against the family. It was perhaps his attitude that let me continue to read.

At the end of the novel, we learn of Papa Pilgrim's trial and conviction. The remaining children are informally "adopted" by another giant isolationist Fundamentalist family. Two of the Pilgrim sons even marry two of the family's daughters. Though I was, of course, happy to see them out of the reach of Papa Pilgrim, it was hardly (from my perspective) an uplifting ending. It doesn't seem like the new family is abusive, but they're still fanatics keeping their children from the real world--and I can't root for that.

No comments:

Post a Comment