I met the editor of this book, Laura Stanfill, out in the blogosphere while we were both mutually admiring each others blogs. I found her just delightful and followed her progress as she bravely ventured out to start her own publishing house, Forest Avenue Press. Founded in 2012 in Portland, Oregon, Forest Avenue Press started with the mission to publish quiet novels for a noisy world.
This book is their first fiction release and debuts this month. I am delighted have read one of the Advanced Reader copies. This book was well chosen. The writing is solid and the pacing moves the story along well. Author Dan Berne brings the Alaskan scenery to life effortlessly as he weaves the tale of a broken family trying to reunite, missing one of its members, and struggling to fit the pieces back together.
Family means everything to widowed Alaskan fisherman Ray Bancroft, raising his granddaughter while battling storms, invasive species, and lawsuit happy tourists. To navigate, and to catch enough crab to feed her college fund, Ray seeks help from a multitude of gods and goddesses – not to mention ad-libbed rituals performed at sea by his half-Tlingit best friend.
But kitchen counter statues and otter bone ceremonies aren’t enough when his estranged daughter returns from prison, swearing she’s clean and sober. Her search for a safe harbor threatens everything Ray holds sacred.
Set against a backdrop of ice and mud and loss, this debut novel explores the unpredictable fissures of memory, and how families can break apart, even in the midst of healing. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Berne evokes rich sensory details of life on Yatki Island, Alaska, and the people there who live and die by the sea. It anchors the reader firmly in the world so well you can almost smell the creosote, diesel fuel, and gutted fish in the air and taste the elk stew Muskeg Sally has cooking down at the Blind Dog Tavern.
Here’s an excerpt from the first page:
Mud and rain invaded my dreams after Donna’s death. In southeast Alaska, where I’ve lived for half my life, we have precipitation 310 days out of the year. All those nights with the skittle-skattle of wet pellets against the windows, you’d think that rain would have formed the base molecules of my sleep a long time ago. And the mud. It’s everywhere up here, omnipresent and brutal. Until my wife died, my dreams were waterproofed, sealed against the elements. Maybe it was feeling her back against my chest as we lay in bed, her leg draped over my thigh. My arm around her waist, breathing in the scent of her skin, listening to her breathe. Twelve years she’s been gone, and I seldom sleep without the rain beating on the walls of my subconscious, the sludge seeping up through the decks of my memory.
Standing on the aft deck cabin of my crabbing boat, I read the letter from my daughter for the third time. She wants to come home. Jenny, who together with the rain and the mud, murdered my wife.
Powerful and tactile. And it doesn’t let up. I raced through this book; I couldn’t put it down. It wasn’t just the great pacing that kept me reading, though. I cared about the characters who were flawed and scarred and kept making the wrong choices just when you hoped they wouldn’t. It was a beautifully written story that I enjoyed to the very end.
Dan Berne owns a market strategy consultancy and lives with his wife Aliza in Portland, Oregon. His short stories and poetry have been published in literary magazines. This is his debut novel.
Learn more about Dan Berne here.