In a Town Called Paradox by Richard Starks & Miriam Murcutt #bookreview

In a Town Called Paradox by Richard Starks & Miriam Murcutt

“I wasn’t looking for Marilyn Monroe when I bumped into her, even though I knew she was in town filming River of No Return…”

SO BEGINS In A Town Called Paradox – set in Utah, in the 1950s, when the Big Five Hollywood studios were lured to that state by the fiery red-rock scenery that formed the perfect backdrop to the blockbuster movies they planned to film.

Corin Dunbar – banished to live with her aunt Jessie, an obsessively religious spinster who runs a failing cattle ranch near Paradox – hates her new life, until the arrival of Hollywood turns the rural backwater into a playground for glamorous stars. Seduced by the glitz of the movies, Corin finds work with the studios, but after a brush with the casting couch, channels her growing ambition into saving the ranch—the jewel of the Dunbar family for three generations.

When Corin falls for Ark Stevenson – a charismatic stranger who was raised by missionaries in the Amazon jungle (then drawn to Paradox by his fascination with the Westerns that are filmed there) – her future seems bright. That’s not the outlook facing Yiska Begay, a Navajo Indian and convicted murderer who’s on the run near Paradox. These different lives unexpectedly collide when a tragic accident wrecks Corin’s dreams and forces her to make an agonizing decision that changes the course of her life forever.

Told mainly by Corin—now a middle-aged woman still haunted by this watershed moment—In A Town Called Paradox is a compelling read that redefines the meaning of love as it asks the question: If each of us has a life story, then who decides how it unfolds – and how it should end?

Book Review by Tanya Kaanta

Set during the Golden Age of Hollywood, In a Town Called Paradox skillfully weaves together themes of love, politics, social inequality, survival, community, spirituality, and second chances. Honestly, I couldn’t put this book down. While this story is not a suspenseful gripping tale that leaves the reader always guessing what happens next—and yes, those are indeed fun books—rather this book drew me in due to the beauty of its prose. The elegance of the backdrop that becomes a character in and of itself. And the depth and nuance of our leading and supporting cast.  

Most of the novel is told in first person through Corin, an orphaned tween girl who in 1954, moves west to live with her Aunt Jessie. Paradox, Utah, so unlike New York City, elicits culture shock for our young heroine, as she begrudges life on a cattle ranch. Until the five major Hollywood studios transform this rural town into the epicenter for filming Western films. 

As Corin comes of age, we are introduced to other members of the town, and the roles they play within the community, maintaining certain social structures and traditions not necessarily in tune with Corin’s beliefs on society. Not until she meets a young graduate student from halfway across the word, does she truly connect with another person. Noah, aka Ark had an unorthodox life prior to meeting Corin. The first of his years are spent living in South America with the Yanomami tribe, before his missionary parents ship him back to England to complete his educational studies. He finds his passion for astronomy and earns an assistantship in Utah, where the skies are crisp and free of light pollution.

But this is more than just the love story of Corin and Ark. It’s a tale of courage and transformation for Corin, as she navigates life’s difficult and unpredictable events. Irreversible decisions that affect one’s future. Coming to terms with the and deception of people and their fears, while also discovering the goodness and compassion in humanity. How we can right some wrongs, and how life and death are not concrete entities, but transitions. 

Above all, I love how this book still makes me think about all the intertwined themes. How the supporting characters, told in third person, provide a glimpse into the past. A past riddled with imperfections and hope, traditions and uncertainty. Not so unlike today. And yet there’s always an option, a choice to make in both action and thought. Which is transformative. 

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