Three Alaska authors, three Alaska stories, one Alaska book, all brought forth by an Alaska publisher. If that alone is not enough to make you buy this book, read on.
In a state known for books about bush pilots, bear encounters and fish stories, "Weathered Edge" (VP & D House, $19.95) is something new. It is literary fiction -- high quality stuff, but unpretentious, accessible, and populated with settings and characters that many of us will recognize.
Here is a book of meaningful fiction that does not force Alaska readers to resettle in California, New York or the Midwest. Here is a book that will feel at home on an Alaska bookshelf.
Do not pick up "Weathered Edge" expecting a novel. It is a collection of three novellas, each by a different author, each too long to be a short story but marginally too short to stand alone, by word count, as a complete novel. The authors write with their own voices, in their own styles, about different characters and different situations.
But as a whole their novellas work together, offering what might be described as three coming-of-age tales from different stages of life and different situations, but all very Alaska.
Kris Farmen kicks off with "Edge of Somewhere, "the story of two displaced Alaskans, a young man and a young woman who find themselves in Australia and Antarctica, both happy to have escaped the land of their youth but both also longing to return, feeling Alaska's magnetism even from the other side of the globe. They both surf, but he suffers from the ill effects of severe trauma. Their paths cross and move on and cross again, but in the end they are together, finding love as they mature into the realization that the state they had once dreamed of leaving behind will draw them back.
Farmen, whom some will remember from his novels "Turn Again" and "The Devil's Share," has done it again, modestly writing another Alaska classic.
Martha Amore follows with a story of tragedy and self reliance in her "Weathered In." A young couple, living in the back of their car as a matter of choice rather than necessity, comes to Alaska. They come to climb.
She discovers that she is pregnant and they are pulled into the world of adult responsibilities. The young couple wants elbow room and a true Alaska home, so they vow that they will not live in Anchorage. But like so many of us they land in Anchorage. His love of the mountains draws him on expeditions while she raises the baby.
Resentment grows, but then he is lost in an accident and her adult world grows suddenly more challenging. Like other single parents in Alaska -- not so uncommon here -- she scrapes together a life, coming to peace with who she is and the land that has become home for her and her baby.
Buffy McKay offers the third novella, "Sundowning" -- fiction, but fiction that very subtly teaches us something about cultural imperialism in the far North
A young woman, raised in Rhode Island, returns to Alaska with her mother.
As her mother's dementia spirals downward the young woman ages, discovering her inner strengths while learning about her mother's roots and the strong sense of place that made her mother who she was. She also learns about her mother's history and about some of the darker aspects of Alaska's own history. By the time her mother dies, the young woman is someone new, a better person, self sufficient and self confident.
Thematically, these novellas may not need Alaska. Farmen's characters could have longed for almost any distant home, Amore's young mother could have landed in any small city, and McKay's tale of dementia and family devotion could have been set against a different geography.
But the novellas are anchored in Alaska, with characters shaped by Alaska, and as such they are unique. Each captures a sense of Alaska in its own way and it is impossible to read "Weathered Edge" without pride of ownership.
It is also impossible to read these novellas without learning something about your home and the way you think about yourself and your immediate neighbors.
You will not read this book without saying to yourself, "these stories are about my state, and these writers are from my state, and I am almost sure I know someone who knows someone who knows these supposedly fictional characters."
It would be easy to end this review by pointing to the value of supporting local writers and local businesses, by complimenting the Anchorage-based publisher VP & D House, and by thanking these writers for sharing their talent and hard work. And while all of that would be justified, this book deserves more than "think Alaska, buy Alaska, support Alaskans."
This is a book about Alaska and Alaskans today, as we really are and not as we wish we were or as the tourist brochures would have us appear.
This is a book for all of us who live here and for all of our visitors who are interested in something more than a crashed plane and a bear attack and a big fish.
We bask in the middle of a summer to be remembered, a summer that leaves little time for reading, but keep this book in mind.
Read it when the inevitable summer rains settle in or during a pleasant daylight evening, or save it for the winter ahead.
Give copies to visitors and put it on your book club's list.
Because this book is uniquely Alaskan it will not make The New York Times best seller list, but when the Anchorage Daily News starts a list of its own, "Weathered Edge" deserves a place right up on top.
Alaska-based biologist Bill Streever is the bestselling author of "Cold" and "Heat."