Gravity Hill is a book about pain. About how rarely our expectations live up to our realities. It is a story—many stories—about what it means to lose our way, to find it again, to lose it again, then to find it somewhere else. The thought that returned to me over and over while reading Gravity Hill was that pain can be a great teacher, but only if it changes your behavior.
Gravity Hill, an elegiac memoir from Salt Lake City author Maximilian Werner, is about learning to listen to that teacher. He is 42 years old and has two small children. He is not proud of the man he was. He has done many things (violence, drugs, violent sex and more) that he would not want his children to look up to. But were these chaotic, unnerving experiences actually what made him the man he is today? This is a book about him making sense of these ideas and asking himself difficult questions.
This works particularly well set against the backdrop of a childhood in Mormon Salt Lake City, since Werner grew up here as a non-Mormon. The most fascinating thing about living here as a non-Mormon is that the “fringe” elements of Salt Lake City can get even fringier, because it is so important for some people to make it clear that they have nothing to do with the church.
Describing the story is a challenge, because what I’ll remember most about Gravity Hill is what it felt like to read the book. It has a mood that I haven’t encountered very often. I can’t say it’s a lot of fun, but the writing is lovely; it prompted me to reaffirm the things I believe, the things I do not, and to recommit to being a kind, gentle, forgiving person.
Highly recommended. You’ll know within a few pages whether it’s a book for you.
Josh Hanagarne is a Librarian at Salt Lake City Public Library’s Main Library. To find Gravity Hill and similar books in our catalog, or to find more info on The City Library's programs and services, visit slcpl.org.