Miranda Weiss writes of her experiences as a new resident of the south central coast of Alaska. She moved there to be with her boyfriend about ten years prior to the publication of the book. Bred to Maryland suburbs, it was a large shift from what had come before. But clearly she had a desire for that sort of experience. Her significant other was very much into the self-sufficiency that is requisite for life in such a place, and she was attracted to that, wanting not only to enjoy his skills, but eager to build her own.
There are passages in this book that I found almost magical. My favorite paints a picture of the community all out at once, participating in a mass orgy of dip-netting (only locals are allowed to use such nets—outsiders are restricted to hook and line) to take in a share of the annual salmon run. It was riveting.
She tells of life and culture in Homer, Alaska, with an emphasis on how the external world defines the rhythms of one’s life. Her naturalist point of view was appealing. She writes also about the difficulty of finding friends in such a small place. That loneliness was clearly problematic for her, at least during the time of which she writes.
I was of two minds about the book. I enjoyed the content of what Weiss was describing. There was new information in the book. One section tells of a religious community known as the Old Believers descendants of early Russian settlers, and committed to many ancient customs. Although it did not stop them from tooling around in the latest SUVs. It was interesting to learn about the challenges faced by the everyday locals, particularly new ones. And the nature writing was satisfying. But can one like the book and not the author?
I did not care much for Weiss, at least what she chose to reveal of her inner thoughts. I always got the sense that she was holding back a huge chunk of herself from the reader. Of course that is her right. And her purpose was to tell of Alaska, not her personal travails, necessarily. But she tells enough about her personal dealings, particularly her relationship with her boyfriend, to make one wonder, when a large event takes place at the back end of the book, exactly what went into it. I found her minimal treatment of this annoying. I felt that it was a sort of tease, merely the visible tip to a calved slab of glacier. Ultimately, I would have much preferred for her to have omitted her personal relationship issues and stuck to a description of the exterrnalities of her northern world, if she was not prepared to write of both with equal forthrightness.
PS - It would also have been nice to have some maps in the book, the better to gain a sense of her environment, both in Homer and when she and her boyfriend were out in the really wild delta near Bethel on a summer project. Yes, we do have internet access here in wildest New York City, but still.