Publication Date: May 27, 2015
In A Light in the Desert by Anne Montgomery, The Amtrak Sunset Limited crashes in the desert under mysterious circumstances. In the area of the crash is a pregnant teen, a soldier suffering from PTSD, a group of Pentecostal zealots waiting for the events foretold in Revelations surely soon to happen. A Light in the Desert is the story of the people surrounding the event. I received a copy of this book in exchange for my review.
A Light in the Desert is a fictional story based on the true event of the derailing of the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a train that traveled between New Orleans, Louisiana and Los Angles, California, on October 9, 1995, in Hyder, Arizona. Railway ties had been removed to cause the accident and though the actual culprits were never caught, A Light in the Desert is a fictionalized version of the events.
A Light in the Desert is a character-driven novel imbued with social commentary. There are a number of focus characters including a pregnant teen, a traumatized Vietnam veteran, a battered teen repeating the cycle and a group of Pentecostal zealots calling themselves “The Children of Light” waiting for the world to end. Montgomery’s writing technique involves short chapters of slowly released experiences, highlighting the characters. We meet the pregnant teen when she’s in a cemetery leaving flowers on the graves of babies and we meet the Vietnam veteran as he’s saving a dog that had been tortured. There are hints that draw us in before the characters really start to connect.
I was especially interested to read The Children of Light as I was raised Pentecostal. In the church in which I grew up, members referred to each other as “brother” and “sister.” In A Light in the Desert their title is “Elect” and that title crosses gender lines. There is a reverence for religion in the piece, but one that connects with reality in a way that radical Christianity often does not. A Light in the Desert is a book about humanity, and the author clearly sees faith and those of extreme faith as a part of that humanity though she in no way backs away from the darker elements and the scars that darkness leaves.
Montgomery’s style of prose is economical but lyrical which, I believe, is perhaps what lets the piece down. Our looks into the lives are quick shots, and people that need to put the book down and pick it up again may find A Light in the Desert somewhat difficult to follow. Motivations are unveiled as a payoff for continuing to read. Montgomery is a very good writer who seems very conscious; she is an observer of technical rules of writing. Above all else, A Light in the Desert is a work of literary fiction and an example of proper techniques to writers aspiring to the genre. The story itself flows quite quickly. The setting was natural to the true story on which A Light in the Desert is based but brilliant for the isolated feel of the characters.
A Light in the Desert is a great read. If you’re looking for a great story about human nature, pick A Light in the Desert up today.
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