Review

Pie Town

by Lynne Hinton

We first discover Pie Town through the eyes of Father George Morris, a newly minted Catholic priest fresh from seminary who has been sent to the far reaches of civilization. He had asked for a posting in the third world, thinking Central America or an island. As he heads west on Highway 60 out of Socorro, he decides that this is the closest thing to it and he should make the best of things. Nearing his destination, he almost collides with one of Pie Town's most prominent citizens as he swerves to avoid a female hitchhiker. He is torn between rescuing a damsel in distress as a storm hovers on the horizon, and following the dictates of the Church to never finding oneself alone in a car with a young lady. Rules give way to humanitarianism as he allows her in the car. He first encounters his new parishioners as he and the girl, Trish, dash into Pie Town's only restaurant, soaked to the skin by a sudden desert monsoon storm.

Stories from New Mexico nearly always revolve around the slightly mystical, and PIE TOWN doesn't stray far from the magical realism theme. They don't print billboards and license plates with "New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment" for no reason.

The story centers on Father George, Trish, and Alex, an 11-year-old wheelchair-bound boy with his very own guardian angel. Alex's mother, a drug abuser, has run off to leave her son to be raised by his grandfather, the local sheriff, and just about everyone else in Pie Town. It is a heartwarming story told in an easy, conversational way.

Stories from New Mexico nearly always revolve around the slightly mystical, and PIE TOWN doesn't stray far from the magical realism theme. They don't print billboards and license plates with "New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment" for no reason.

That same sign for Pie Town, perched on the Continental Divide in the middle of nowhere, captured Lynne Hinton's imagination as it did mine. It was a cause for celebration for my family in the late '60s and '70s as we zoomed by it on what we considered our personal speedway on annual trips from Iowa to Arizona. We'd leave Socorro, New Mexico, on US 60, hit 90 mph, and not see another living soul for the next 150 miles to the first pit stop across the Arizona border in Springerville. I'd ponder what happened to the inhabitants of Pie Town. The kids saw it as a sign that we were on the downhill side of a long car ride and start planning what to order at the Springerville drive-in, while my husband kept one eye on the gas gauge and the other on the rearview mirror.

I'm so happy that Hinton was similarly intrigued when many years later she spotted that lonely little sign, which by then pointed to a tiny town complete with a restaurant that served pies. Industry of sorts had come to Pie Town in the form of construction of an other-worldly-looking string of giant satellite dishes, tuned to listen for signs of life in outer space. Since Pie Town was the best place due to its elevation and dark skies for a base of operations, the little town became its address and sprung to life. Hinton's fertile imagination created a cast of characters who have little to do with the satellites and their sci-fi task, but she brings this tiny place to life in her delightful book of the same name.

Footnote: We didn't revisit Arizona until 1986 and, to our surprise, encountered not only cars and trucks and speed limits, but also signs of life in Pie Town. Still no pit stop, however. We spotted several enormous, skyscraper-sized satellite dishes under construction dotting the landscape as the National Radio Astronomy Observatory started building the first of 10 stations, called Very Long Baseline Arrays (VLBA) sprinkled from Hawaii to New Hampshire and the Virgin Islands. The Pie Town station was formally opened in the early 1990s and was used as a setting for the movie Contact, based on Carl Sagan's novel of the same name. The film had no more to do with Sagan's book than PIE TOWN has to do with either the observatory or perhaps even the actual town. Such is the wondrous magic of fiction and good storytelling, which Hinton offers with joyous skill.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on July 3, 2011

Pie Town
by Lynne Hinton

  • Publication Date: June 7, 2011
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0062045083
  • ISBN-13: 9780062045089