Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Book Review: Pilgrim's Wilderness by Tom Kizzia

From Goodreads:
Into the Wild meets Helter Skelter in this riveting true story of a modern-day homesteading family in the deepest reaches of the Alaskan wilderness – and of the chilling secrets of its maniacal, spellbinding patriarch.

When Papa Pilgrim appeared in the Alaska frontier outpost of McCarthy with his wife and fifteen children in tow, his new neighbors had little idea of the trouble to come. The Pilgrim Family presented themselves as a shining example of the homespun Christian ideal, with their proud piety and beautiful old-timey music, but their true story ran dark and deep. Within weeks, Papa had bulldozed a road through the mountains to the new family home at an abandoned copper mine, sparking a tense confrontation with the National Park Service and forcing his ghost town neighbors to take sides in an ever-more volatile battle over where a citizen’s rights end and the government’s power begins.

In Pilgrim’s Wilderness, veteran Alaska journalist Tom Kizzia unfolds the remarkable, at times harrowing, story of a charismatic spinner of American myths who was not what he seemed, the townspeople caught in his thrall, and the family he brought to the brink of ruin. As Kizzia discovered, Papa Pilgrim was in fact the son of a rich Texas family with ties to Hoover’s FBI and strange, oblique connections to the Kennedy assassination and the movie stars of Easy Rider. And as his fight with the government in Alaska grew more intense, the turmoil in his brood made it increasingly difficult to tell whether his children were messianic followers or hostages in desperate need of rescue. In this powerful piece of Americana, written with uncommon grace and high drama, Kizzia uses his unparalleled access to capture an era-defining clash between environmentalists and pioneers ignited by a mesmerizing sociopath who held a town and a family captive.
I love a good solid piece of investigative journalism, and Kizzia has delivered exactly that in this book.  He's found an incredible story set in an absolutely stunning locale and populated with characters that are so bizarre you know they have to be real.   In addition to having a fascinating and disturbing true story to tell, Kizzia has obviously done his work researching the family and their history and presenting all possible sides and angles, including those that are difficult to read (he conducts multiple interviews with Papa Pilgrim that are just chilling).  I can't say enough great things about how well the story is presented and how thoroughly Kizzia has investigated every angle.

Entertainment Value
I should start by saying that there is a special love in my heart for stories about crazy cults and religious ideas as well as any book that claims to investigate the dark side of a particular group of people, so it's like this was written just for me.  It also came on the heels of my addiction to Serial and it scratched some of that same itch for just totally having my mind blown with craziness.  I devoured this in just two sittings because I was so intrigued about where it would go and what would happen next.  The fact that this is non-fiction just made it all the more intriguing.

This has some hard material, so readers should be aware that there are depictions of domestic abuse and sexual abuse, although none that are graphic.  That said, it's a gripping true story and I think it will appeal to fans of true crime, investigative reporting, or just straight up crazy business.  It'll also be appearing on my upcoming list of books for Serial fans to read.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for providing me with a copy!

1 comment:

  1. Oh, cool, I'm intrigued. "Into the Wild meets Helter Skelter" is such a great tagline, isn't it?