This first novel by Jackson Ellis, inspired by the real Hugh Lord in the lost town of St. Thomas, Nevada, imagines what it is like to lose your home and discover it again. Fictional Henry Lord grew up in St. Thomas, as did both parents, his grandparents and great grandparents, who settled there, following Joseph Smith. In 1936, during the building of the Hoover Dam, when the government tries to relocate the Lord family, Henry’s father and grandfather disagree how to respond. Grandpa won’t budge, but dad takes work in the city to save up for a new home in safer territory. Until then, Henry, his mom and grandpa stay in their family home while the town is all but deserted. Finally, they’re forced to leave. Will Henry ever return?
Jackson, a long time writer and editor from Vermont, masterfully couples a historic event with a classic coming of age story. In Henry’s own voice, Jackson begins with the hasty and tragic departure from home, then fast forwards Henry at age 76, recognizing the dried up remains of his old town in a newspaper picture. The rest of the short book connects these two dots in time through vivid scenes of father and son playing baseball and grandpa and grandson fishing, school ground fights, and a mother’s love, as well as the tamarisk and creosote studded desert of the Moapa Valley. History comes alive as characters relate differently to the verdict cast down from on high, that their valley would soon flood with re-routed river water. Meanwhile, Henry, a child, believes what he wants to be true, that he’d never have to leave (49). But he does leave, first by necessity and then by choice. In a poetic twist, an older Henry returns to St. Thomas in extreme dry conditions, where a storm and ensuing flood had sent him packing at age twelve. The story is heart warming, but not sentimental, and well told (it won the Howard Frank Mosher First Novel Prize in 2017), a glimpse into the past and a glimmer of hope for the future. buy the book on Amazon