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Merrill, "The Evolution of Thomas Hall" (reviewed by Steve Eccles) Options · View
Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2011 12:30:31 PM

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Title: The Evolution of Thomas Hall
Author: Kieth Merrill
Publisher: Shadow Mountain, an imprint of Deseret Book
Genre: Fiction
Year Published: 2011
Number of Pages: 456
Binding: Hardback
ISBN13: 978-1-60641-836-9
Price: $27.99

Reviewed by Steve Eccles for the Association for Mormon Letters

According to the Internet Movie Database, Kieth Merrill has directed 26 motion pictures including "Harry's War," "Mr. Kruger's Christmas" and "Windwalker"; produced 17 films and written 13 movies or documentaries. He has won two Oscars and an Academy Award for "The Great American Cowboy." According to the book jacket blurb, two of his films have been listed in the top 100 independent films of all time.

This is his first venture into a full length book, from a 25 year old short film script that was never produced. According to the Acknowledgements page (455) at the end of the book, Sheri Dew, President of Deseret Book, "browbeat" the author for 10 years to write this story.

As I was reading this book, I found my iPad a great tool in fact-checking for this book. The book started by introducing me to Boris Vallejo, an artist whose work would probably not be allowed to be displayed at BYU. It later brought the biblical paintings of Gustav Dore into the plot.

"The Evolution of Thomas Hall" is a very interesting read. Hall starts out as a narcissistic, Red Bull-guzzling, very talented artist. He is introduced while working on a painting at the Pacific Science Museum.

As Hall's character is developed, the main character's childhood is developed and you are introduced to a very large cast of characters in this story. The first is Susan "Cass" Cassidy, who has recommended the artist to be commissioned to paint a mural in the Children's Wing at St. Mark's Hospital in San Francisco in the Children's Wing at St. Mark's Hospital in San Francisco. The area containing the mural is to be called "The Healing Place." This envisioned art would illustrate the healing miracles of Jesus Christ.

The list of characters in this book keeps building to the end. They include:

Christina Christensen, a young girl who is in an auto accident that takes her mother's life and puts her in St. Mark's Hospital where she becomes a major part of the lives of Cass and Thomas.

Frank Berger, Thomas's agent who is both an opportunist and a personal manager and business consultant who tries sometimes in vain to keep Thomas in financial check and is at times exposed to Thomas's wrath and resentment.

Ray Evans, a California Highway Patrol officer who saves Christina from death and has a deeply religious experience in the process.

Silas Hawker, the new museum director at the Pacific Science Museum, who pushes and intimidates Thomas to accomplish Hawker's goals. He tries to enlist Thomas in some unethical dealings that could end up in legal battles for Hawker, the museum and Thomas. Hawker sees through Thomas's non-committal attitude towards religion and tells him, "I have more respect for a televangelist with fake eyelashes, and big hair bilking money from widows .. than a milksop, namby-pamby who doesn't want the guilt that comes with God but is too scared to offend him.." (45).

Others include a wealthy woman who is endowing St. Marks for The Healing Place; an egotistical physician who fights Cass in the selection of Thomas; an art professor who mentors Thomas; a museum director who pulls Thomas towards agnosticism; a couple residing together on a boat of mixed religious faiths who introduces Thomas to varying ideas about the miracles and divinity of Christ; a veteran who is down and out who crosses Thomas's path; environmentalists and an assortment of other people.

Thomas is pulled between the two major commissioned projects - that of the museum and The Healing Place, the former pulling him towards agnosticism or atheism and the latter causing him to think seriously about Christianity. He has to reconcile these forces, pulling him in opposite directions.

The author does a good job of developing the characters and the circumstances. He also presents some interesting ideas from such diverse sources as Thomas Jefferson (p 176), Richard Dawkins (p 212 and 214), Carl Sagan (p 212), Charles Darwin (255, 437-43cool, C. S. Lewis (261), St. Augustine, as quoted in "One Hundred Cranes" by William Fitzgerald (293). Thomas also is given a reprint of an antique Bible illustrated by Gustav Dore which influences him as he tries to complete he Healing Place mural.

The book will cause you to think, to like and dislike Thomas at various times, and grow attached to the cast of characters in the book. The ending seems a bit like Alcoholics Anonymous Steps 4, 8 and 9 as Thomas tries to make up for past mistakes and offenses he has made involving some of the characters in the book. The evolution of Thomas is interesting to watch and the ending does not wrap up into a neat conclusion. Perhaps there will be a sequel developing the characters further.

The book has the potential of being an interesting movie. As the publisher's blurb notes, "Now the screenplay that Merrill reworked into his debut novel has received interest from other filmmakers who are interested in purchasing the film rights." It will be interesting to see if this comes to pass. I would certainly want to see this as a movie. The author certainly has the background to be able to write a story for the big screen.

It is also available in an unabridged story in an 11 CD set from Shadow Mountain for $44.99. It would be a great story to listen to during a long trip.

This is a book that would probably do very well in the non-LDS fiction market. I think it has a very broad appeal for those who enjoy involved novels with several plot lines and that involve a diverse group of characters, from religious to non-religious. I almost wonder if the book would do better if it was by a trade publisher rather than Shadow Mountain. It will be interesting to see how the book sells.

I would really recommend this to people who enjoy involved novels with a complicated story. There is something for most everyone in this novel.
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