Steven L. Peck
The Scholar of Moab
Picaresque in its progress, in its pilgrimage epistolary, The Scholar of Moab repays the careful reading it requires, even while giving the reader a periodic noogie with the stubble of the scholar’s cheek. Any novel given birth by something called the Gala Cotillion Club has an uphill trudge in its future. Peck produces sections of the novel in four main voices: Hyrum LeRoy Thayne, Dora Daphne Tanner, William & Edward Babcock and the self-effacing Redactor. He also identifies four members of the Gala Cotillion Club (himself included) in his dedication. He writes the different voices so well that I wondered whether he had plundered the archives of the Club, but when I went to Amazon in search of works of the poet Dora Daphne Tanner, the only hit I got was Peck’s novel.
It is a mark of the skill with which he has written this novel that Peck is able to portray the Mormon hunger to be taken seriously, especially in the late Sixties and mid Seventies, as being hilariously unbalanced by the Mormon unwillingness to pay the price in scholarship to earn serious regard. He does that while producing an engaging portrait of death by misadventure, and exploring the mysteries and madness of love.
There are many mysteries in the world of post-Watergate Moab. One of them is the paranoid style of local politics, which is responsible for one death. A second is the belief of a principal character in abductions by aliens, which features prominently in another death. A third is the lingering presence of what was called “black comedy” in the Sixties, in which the death of yet a third principal is enmeshed. That any of this is still funny is a cause of concern for the health of our culture; that all of it is hilarious is its diagnosis of health.