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If David Pace's novel about a young man reared in a large, devoted Utah family rings with authenticity, that's because its themes have autobiographical resonance for its author.
Pace, the literary editor of the Utah arts magazine 15 Bytes, will launch his first novel, "Dream House on Golan Drive," at a reading at The King's English in Salt Lake City on Tuesday.
The novel, published by Signature Books, tells of the coming-of-age of Riley Hartley, the oldest son in a Mormon family of 10 children raised in the Provo neighborhood considered Snob Hill. The family is raised by a charismatic religion teacher and his bread-baking wife, a former Miss Utah, who in her pageant days was considered a Mormon Grace Kelly.
The story includes Riley's farcical experiments with sexuality, his struggles with companions and his faith on a mission, and a failed marriage. Along the way, he stumbles as he steps outside the bubble of his family and attempts to find out what he truly believes.
What sets apart Riley's story, and the lovingly satirical novel, is the humorous perspective of an ironic narrator, Zedekiah, one of the immortal beings whom Mormons call The Three Nephities. "I hope it gives some compassion to the proceedings," Pace says. "I felt that he was a good foil for Riley as both a guardian angel and also an objective commentator on the whole scenario."
In the novel, Zed, who is disturbed by the way scriptural texts are regularly twisted-up by contemporary souls, takes seriously his calling to watch over Riley Hartley. "My assignment is to prevent Riley from approaching the veil prematurely," he says. "The kid reminds me of myself at that age, although I was born two millennia earlier."
"It's so Utah in its setting and its orientation, and it's so emotive and so honest," says Ron Priddis, Signature's managing director, who edited the book.
In a blurb for the novel, Catholic writer Brian Doyle praises the story's blunt lyricism. "It's a mark of maturity when a culture of any kind faces itself squarely, with pain and humor and grace, and David Pace's wry bruised novel is accessible, revelatory and startling," Doyle writes.
Set aside the magical realism, and Pace's fiction is inspired by a cultural and familial milieu he knows intimately. "This is a fictional account of a family that has a lot of connections to my own past," Pace says. "It's de rigueur to say all of it's true and none of it happened. Some of it did happen, but I'm not going to say what."
Pace, 54, was raised in Provo, the oldest son in a family of 12. In writing the book, "by the time I got up to 10 kids, I thought nobody was going to believe 12 kids," the writer says.
His father, George W. Pace, was a charismatic religion teacher at Brigham Young University, earning the student-voted title of Professor of the Year in 1978. His mother, Diane, was a former Miss Oregon.
The elder Pace's writings about developing a relationship with Jesus Christ were denounced in 1982 by Elder Bruce R. McConkie, who said not including the Holy Ghost and Heavenly Father was "plain sectarian nonsense."
In the novel, as in David Pace's family, the elder Hartley apologizes after he receives a public reprimand from a church authority, while the eldest son's religious views are fractured.
As a writer, Pace says he writes about Mormonism as a cultural anthropologist. (Asked in a 15 Bytes interview if he considers himself a Mormon writer, he answers, wistfully: "Hopelessly.")
Pace graduated with an English degree from the honors program at BYU and later earned a master's degree in communication from the University of Utah. He worked as a flight attendant for more than 20 years and was living in New York City when he was furloughed by Delta Air Lines after 9/11.
Since he moved back to Utah, he's worked at the Utah Humanities Council and the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, as well as in development for Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and, currently, at Repertory Dance Theatre.
His first novel was more than 15 years in the making. In 2004 an earlier draft, "Jack Mormon," told through Riley's point-of-view, won first place in the Utah Original Writing Competition.
A later award-winning short story that Pace published in Dialogue magazine, "American Trinity," featured the character of Zedekiah as the narrator.
When Pace wove Zed into his novel, including a moving encounter that concludes the story, the writer felt the work was transformed into a more universal story. "The book really jelled for me as Riley realizes that he is the product of what he was trying to flee," Pace says.
Beyond religion, the writer hopes the novel explores the dynamic of large families, where siblings are raised to rely on each other for their social and spiritual needs. "I wanted to plumb the depths of that," he says. "My closest friends were always within the family, and anyone who found a close friend outside the family was considered suspect."
Religiously conservative Mormons might be offended by the novel's use of language from LDS temple ceremonies. "But it does so as an integral part of the story, in a beautiful way," Priddis says.
"This is my agenda with all of this: The temple ceremonies are liturgy," Pace says.
Utah writer David G. Pace
Pace will read and launch his novel, "Dream House on Golan Drive."
When • Tuesday, Nov. 10, 7 p.m.
Where • The King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City
Info • Free; 801-484-9100