Rosalyn Eves' new book Beyond the Mapped Stars is the story of a young Mormon girl who has spent countless hours lost in contemplation of the celestial dance playing out above her at night. In the summer of 1878, she finds herself at a fork in the road of her life. On the one hand is the path of her faith and the expectations of her mother. On the other is the pursuit of her belief in science and her own ambitions. Can she reconcile what she dreams for herself with the duties and demands of her life? She knows that a solar eclipse is set to occur in just a month's time, but family comes first and she can't attend to both.
Or can she?
When we first meet Elizabeth Bertelsen, she is lost in the pages of a dime novel about Texas Jack. The West of these stories, like later movie and tv westerns, is a far ride from the reality of Elizabeth's life. In Elizabeth's world, there are no "desperate thieves stage daring robberies," no "tyrannical trail bosses misusing their cowboy employees," no "fragile women fainting at an oath" and no "cunning Indians plotting against whites while mangling English." Worst of all in these stories, thinks Elizabeth, are "the Mormons, who are invariably dastardly or foolish dupes . . . my sister Emily and I save the best passages to share, to laugh at how wrong these eastern writers get us."
Unfortunately for Elizabeth, the future of her imagination seems as fictional as the dime novel versions of her present. She is bright and inquisitive in a time and a place that rewards neither.
A series of events sets Elizabeth off towards Wyoming, ostensibly to help her sister with a new baby, but bound by fate to encounter men and women who will both edify and challenge her and her beliefs. The daughter of a polygamic family, Elizabeth experiences prejudice in a way that lends her insight into the struggles faced by her new friends Alice and Will, the African-American children of a mixed-race couple.
In Rawlins, Elizabeth meets scientists who have gathered to witness the eclipse. She also encounters Texas Jack himself, stepped from the pages of her yellowed dime novels and into the halls of her hotel, where he has an encounter with Thomas Edison, the fictional western world of her beloved dime novels in real-life conflict with her scientific aspirations.
Beyond the Mapped Stars is not a story about abandoning the past for the future, or religion for science, or expectations for aspirations. It is a story about reconciliation and coming to terms with an internal conflict between faith and belief, duty and desire, family and future. The west of the dime novels must be reconciled with the west of reality, just as the expectations of Elizabeth's family must be measured against the curiosity that drives her. The Texas Jack that lassoes Sioux braves by the dozens while rescuing aristocratic maidens in her favorite stories has been replaced by the reality of a man waking up an entire hotel floor while drunkenly demonstrating his pistol prowess for Thomas Edison. The path of Elizabeth Bertelsen isn't now the one that was envisioned for her by her parents—the one where she becomes the second wife of a middle-aged farmer in her hometown. It's the path she charts for herself, beyond the mapped stars.
For further reading on Texas Jack's real-life encounter with Thomas Edison, check out our post The Cowboy, The Wizard, and the Eclipse of 1878.