This is one of those rare works which defies categorization. Technically, it is Historical fiction, but it is also philosophical discussion, science fiction, and romance, to mention a few. To its credit, “A Pioneer’s Return” manages to be all of these things simultaneously and does a credible job on them all. Even the historical front is not neglected. It is the philosophical discussions though, that the conservative reader will probably enjoy most.
The plot is mainly a vehicle for a series of discussions and arguments between the two main characters, but is very intriguing in its own right for all that. In modern-day Oregon, a professor has invented a machine that can pull any thing or anyone from the Oregon Trail into this time. (The device used to do this is blessedly ignored, and the author is content to cloak the hows and whys with mystery and leave it there.) The professor’s young protégée suggests bringing a person back from the trail to see what kind of culture shock they would experience. Eventually, the protégée and the pioneer retrace the Oregon Trail in a car, using aforementioned machine to do so in the appropriate seasons. Along the way, our pioneer (who is female) and the protégée (who is male) have a series of highly interesting discussions, mainly involving the difference between the worldview of the two eras they represent.
These conversations make up the bulk of the book, and they cover a vast range of topics. Religion and history figure most prominently, and the author seems to have done some serious research into the era of the Oregon trail, since the pioneer’s opinions come off as realistic in the extreme. The writing style is a down-home type, with the sort of expressions you would expect from Grandpa telling a tale by the campfire. As I read along I forgot that this wasn’t actually the recordings of a real conversation, instead of a novel. I was challenged to review how I make decisions and differentiate between right and wrong. I was very sad to note how soon the story had to come to an end—the characters’ conversations were so fascinatingly thought-provoking!
There is some relatively strong pro-environmentalist worldview expressed by the protégée, and the topics of homosexuality, abortion, and the like are referenced in passing. Also, even though the relationship of the two main characters is extremely chaste (separate bedrooms, etc.), they do travel the Oregon Trail alone in a car together. Certain types of churches are given a bad rap as being generally un-Biblical in their worldview, but the book does note that there are rotten church in every denomination, and exceptionally good ones in the same.
As for exceptional positive content… There is an overview of American history, and as with all overviews it is from a biased point of view. Its fairly generalized, so just about anyone will probably find fault with some aspect thereof, but by and large I agree with the perspective given by the protégée. At the very least, it is an interesting “take” on our history as a whole. The pioneer has a strongly Reformed Christian worldview, and the idea of man’s inherent sinfulness and all that that entails is discussed in detail over the course of the book, though not in an overt or preachy way. Actually, one of the strengths of the book is how subtly the author gets into the mind of the reader, and gets you to ask yourself these same questions without quite thinking about it.
Overall, a highly recommended read. A plus, five stars, and so on. My biggest objection: the book is quite short, with only 134 pages, and not very big ones at that. It therefore is forced to summarize conversations that I otherwise would have loved to “listen in” on.
NOTE TO READER: this book was published in January 2006, however the publisher is currently not printing more copies. You can contact the author or publisher directly for a copy, or maybe Amazon will start carrying it if there is interest. My copy, from the author, cost $12. I have his address, if someone else wants to purchase it that way, but I’d rather not post that online.