Book Review: Champorcher’s “High Spirits”
Special to the Daily
It is a rare person who does not ponder what the world will be like in the future, whether it be a century from now or only a decade out. That is what Summit County author Alan Champorcher has done in his novel “High Spirits,” to enjoyable effect. The book is set in the year 2027, and artist Emily Cooper has arrived in Breckenridge, Colorado, to determine the fate of her grandfather’s lost golden nugget, one of the last pulled from the prolific Blue River before the dredges were retired.
Emily can’t simply ask Pastor Isaiah Cooper about the gold’s whereabouts, for he disappeared long ago as mysteriously as his gold, leaving little more than a handful of letters and some photos of the church and cabin that he built before he was lost into the mountains of the Blue River Valley.
Though Emily is a newcomer to the mountain town, she feels a sense of connection with the place, and there is no denying that “Breckenridge, even without a blanket of snow, looked like a Hallmark card,” a sentiment shared by visitors and inhabitants, alike. Some locals, though, see Emily as a cog in the wheels of progress that they are intent upon manipulating to their own benefit.
Emily is a young artist from New York, specializing in pottery, and she dreams of having her grandfather’s old chapel as a studio, but she is content to take up an offer by the current owner of the property, the centenarian Al Holland, to live in the dilapidated old cabin at the back of the church. Holland is a kindly old man, who knew her grandfather and who says the Breckenridge of the old days is “slowly slipping away,” luring more of the “private aircraft crowd” each year.
It becomes clear to Emily that Holland has become a pawn for various factions of powerful people who see his last hold-out of a property as prime real estate for their various schemes and money-making ventures. Breckenridge and other mountain resorts in Champorcher’s 2027 imaginings are some of the last havens of cool air in a warming world. Climate change has made another Dust Bowl in the South, and much of the United States unpleasant for living, so Summit County is a refuge for migrants seeking a cooler, better life.
“A modern-day Shangri-La — pretty well isolated from the chaos in the rest of the world,” Breckenridge appeals, increasingly, to a wealthy, aging population, and some of the villains in Champorcher’s story see that as an opportunity. Prescott Anderson, the owner of the senior-living center, Serene Horizons, wants to add a hospice center to his high-end retirement community, where he hopes to appeal to those who are “filthy rich and in poor health.” He is one of the circling vultures hoping to snatch up old Holland’s prime land parcel, and he becomes Emily’s fiercest enemy.
But he is not the only one. Politics in 2027 are as corrupt and high-powered as any in today’s landscape, and it seems that few are above the double-dealing and back-room deals that often go hand-in-hand among people who attempt to use their power and privilege for their own personal gain.
In “High Spirits” there is crime, romance, intrigue and even a hint of the supernatural, as Champorcher contemplates a not-too-distant time beyond our own that reads, in parts, like a “Handmaid’s Tale” dystopia for baby boomers. There are many balls in play in the narrative, but the author manages to resolve the story and catch them all. Local readers will find Champorcher’s book to be a beyond-plausible romp through a familiar landscape.
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