“Eddie has a problem — several of them in fact. Drugs and alcohol are fogging his mind, while death and war are depleting his soul. Now, in 1969, he wanders his college campus, relying on his student deferment to keep him alive while he sorts it all out.
“Through various encounters with a devout Christian girlfriend and some enterprising missionaries, Eddie slowly begins to escape the pull of the darkness controlling his life. What happens next he never could have expected.
“A fictionalized account based on actual events, Leaving Moscow is the story of a lost soul looking for comfort in all the wrong places. Ultimately, it is a story of hope and redemption and a testament to the power of God over even the darkest corruption.”
Based on the promo copy — and the fact that it’s Huntsman’s first novel — I expected a rather conventional read. The writing style — first person, standard American realism prose — confirmed that suspicion.
And yet, even if the prose rarely surprises and the ending is obvious and inevitable, the novel itself is so full of grace, the characters and plot handled with such skill that it is a satisfying, enjoyable read.
As with Vernal Promises, Leaving Moscow focuses on a young man caught in a spiral of substance abuse. Scenes and descriptions are frank, but not graphic.
Eddie drinks, has premarital sex and smokes a lot of dope. Both the pleasures and the dangers and waste of drug use are vividly present throughout the novel. But Eddies is no burned out loser. He is given to fits of introspection and musings about the meaning of life — and especially death, something that his life has been filled with (moments that he recalls in the form of [literary] flashbacks).
So, yeah, it’s all set up to be your typical conversion story. Except — it’s not facile, and one of the main virtues is that the whole thing is rather understated. This is especially the case for three major elements of the story.
First: the backdrop. The Moscow of the title is Moscow, Idaho. The time is the 1960s. Hippies, acid, free love and Vietnam are all part of the scene. And so are red necks. I was expecting the standard conflict of values, but Huntsman shows that it’s a lot more real and complicated than that. Even when they play minor roles, his red necks and hippies are individuals who relate to Eddie in sometime stereotypical, sometimes surprising ways.
Second: the presence of Mormonism in the novel. It seems authentic and adds to the credibility of the narrative. Yes, Eddie knows Mormons, has friends and relatives who are Mormons. But Mormonism is not a consuming presence in the story. It’s just part of the texture of the community in which he lives (Moscow is in the northern, less Mormon part of the state). And the Mormon characters in the novel aren’t perfect and aren’t creepy.
Third: the influencers. There are too major figures in Eddie’s life whose presence (often only in memory) drive him to search for something more, to not be content with his comfortable, drug-addled lifestyle — his guileless yet frat-boyish, gifted high school friend Sonny and Cheryl, a Jesus loving, hippie-chick. Neither is Mormon. Yet as the novel progresses it becomes clear that what Eddie learns from Sonny and Cheryl and his love for them sustains him and eventually gets him to a place where he is receptive to the idea of seriously investigating the LDS Church.
Leaving Moscow is a fine novel. It should be read by anyone with an interest in Mormon culture. It also would be a great bridge novel for those readers who have read some of the lighter Mormon works and genres (esp. romance), but aren’t quite yet ready to tackle some of the more ‘literary’ stuff.
It does suffer slightly from a few images that fall flat and some unnecessary repetitions of information. Nothing a good editor couldn’t have quickly fixed — and not enough to seriously affect the reading experience.
Leaving Moscow can be purchased from Cedar Fort’s Web site. It is published by Bonneville Books, one of Cedar Fort’s imprints.
Note: Major props to Cedar Fort for (unlike another Mormon publisher) actually following through on a promise to send me a review copy of a work I expressed interest in.