Here are condensed versions of a selection of this week’s book reviews:
“Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier,” by Tom Kizzia; Crown (336 pages, $25)
Papa Pilgrim, born as Bobby Hale in Fort Worth, has an unexpected and fascinating back story. Who in Alaska could have guessed he was implicated in a 1962 break-in of Judith Exner’s apartment as part of a scheme to blackmail President John F. Kennedy? Or that he went to school with Lee Harvey Oswald and John Denver? Or that he lived on land in New Mexico owned by Jack Nicholson?
All of this and the title of the book, however, doesn’t quite hint at the darkness of Pilgrim’s story, which we glimpse early on when he is alone with his first wife, as she somehow fatally shoots herself in the back of the head with a 20-gauge shotgun. And it gets only worse as he moves on to a new wife and family and seals them off from the outside world to rule as he sees fit.
“Pilgrim’s Wilderness” is measured, painstakingly reported and gripping, giving us a true look at an escapist nightmare in America’s mythic and fading frontier.
— Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles Times
“The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker’s Journey,” by Lawrence Osborne; Crown (226 pages, $25)
“The Wet and the Dry” is a deceptively nuanced book: a paean to drinking, a travelogue unfolding largely through the Islamic states of the Middle East and a memoir of sorts, in which Osborne’s upbringing, in “a steadfast English suburb” during the 1970s, becomes a lens through which to read his life.
A travel writer and novelist — his books include “The Naked Tourist” and last year’s novel “The Forgiven”; his dreamlike short story “Volcano” was selected for “The Best American Short Stories 2012” — he’s lived in Europe, America and Morocco; currently, he makes his home in Istanbul. That nomadism allows him an ease with the relativity of cultures, an understanding that what we take for granted in one place may be irrelevant, or even dangerous, somewhere else.