Synopses & Reviews
The best I can say was that I went to Alaska to build houses on an army base with my buddy Burke. We'd been chasing the buck together for two years, jobbing up and down the coast, never staying in any one place too long. All that mattered was the work, the coin and those brief moments just after punch-out when I walked back to my truck, bone tired and feeling like a king for having laid it down yet another day.
I was in love with Alaska--the trees and mountains; the rivers without end full of dying salmon and the grizzly bears ready to pounce on them. Everybody was searching for something--whacked-out Vietnam vets waiting for war, Christians praying for the rapture, hippies looking for paradise, strippers rolling dirty bills in their garters, backpackers trekking for that last untouched place. All this put to the soundtrack of sled dogs howling for winter from the back of pickup trucks.
And then there were the wolves--wolves that circled in packs where the roads ended and the maps became blank spaces.
This was the interior, not the sea-struck coast with its mild winters, but the vast middle where winters came early and hard--seventy below and dark by noon. Fairbanks, the Golden Heart of Alaska, former boomtown, now a flat, unremarkable grid of Native American gift shops, pipeyards, bars tricked out to look like log cabins, pull-tab parlors and dusty liquor stores.
The summers were long shadow-filled things. People wandered around, hungover from too much sun and not enough sleep. By June the Alcan was clogged with convoys of fat tourists in overpriced RVs chasing the last of the midnight sun, stuffing themselves at salmon bakes in between trips to Denali, Circle Hot Springs and dramatic reenactments of Robert Service poems at the Malamute Saloon. Locals dragged dead salmon through the bar and told bear stories to the RV crowd hoping to mooch drinks, while the midnight sun lasted. It was one big show until winter came.
I don't know what Burke wanted or what he thought was at the end of it all. He was a tall, thick-chested man with blunt hands and deep work-haunted eyes; a journeyman who could walk beam dead drunk and drive nails with one swat. His face was scuffed and worn from bar fights and outdoor labor. When he spoke he made fists with his hands and jabbed his chin, daring someone to take a swing. There was nothing soft or false about him, just the dogged pursuit of the physical. He lifted weights, skied, hiked, fished and taught himself obscure things by poring through old books on knots, blacksmithing, beekeeping and metallurgy--anything he thought the common man might have forgotten. He was impossible to know, but I caught glimpses--small snatches of what made him tick, usually after too many beers or shots of bourbon. But then I was too far gone to put the pieces together and I'd wake the next morning knowing I'd forgotten something.
Burke always held the fact that I'd had a little college over me. I quit one morning after taking stock of the giggling, backpacked horde and realizing that I was hip-deep in a shallow pond. I felt like a fraud. Maybe it was some midwestern inferiority complex or perhaps it was the suburbs--but I felt soft and useless. I was smart, but not that smart. Women found me easily resistible. My hands were pale and unscarred and except for being tall everything about me screamed average.
I'd been in exactly one fight my entire life and lost--got my face rearranged by some frat boy. For some reason this began to eat at me. I reasoned that in ten years I'd be married, worried about money and what school to send my kids to or what color Volvo I should buy. Did I want leather seats? Cell phone? It was like looking slow death in the face and saying, "Okay, I'd like a piece of that." The alternative was to sit and do nothing or worse, belly up to the treadmill and get taken.
One benefit of my underwhelming mediocrity was that I had options.
I could fight back. Or I could fail miserably at something and live in the shadow of that failure the rest of my life.
What I needed most was a temporary fix, a reprieve from the ruin and doom I saw coming if I stayed my pleasant course of college. So I tried karate and couldn't get past the bowing and black belt crap. Boxing was no better. Got my nose broken by some old Croatian guy who said I punched like a fag. Several guys I knew had nutted out and joined the marines. But that was too obvious. I wanted to be blindsided and led down some dark extraordinary alley, where I might carve out a life.
So I took a job hauling lumber and running errands for the foreman on a housing development, figuring that at the very least the job would toughen me up if not force me to find something better. My old man pissed and moaned about how I wasn't realizing my potential, wasting my life and selling myself short. But the pay was good and it wasn't school. I got up every morning and knew my job. Hit a nail and you'll know what I mean. There was an art to it and there were times when just setting nails into wood seemed a deep and important thing to do. I liked coming home smelling of pine boards, my palms stained with nail grease and tired in a way that seemed real.
Five years later I was a carpenter with a belt full of tools and a late-model Ford F-150. The soft college kid my old man wanted was buried under calluses and thick slabs of job muscle. I hit the road and headed west through Great Falls, Portland and Seattle, working jobs until they were done. I learned to walk away and leave everything behind--the long hours, the accidents and near accidents, foremen getting in my face, the nail-shooting contests--and move on to the next job where empty foundations waited like graves to be filled and built upon and then abandoned for families or factories. Either way it didn't matter because I was letting it roll. Jobs. Friends. Life.
It was honest work. Clock in, clock out and don't think about it in between. And I liked it. I figured that as long as I didn't let the job break me, I could stave off the creeping softness that attacked men and forced them indoors to wait out the end of their dreams.
Most jobs were populated by zombies and God squadders who did what they were told and were easy to let go when the work ran out. The Christians chalked up the hard-luck nature of the job to the will of God while the zombies, drunks and ex-cons received the frequent layoffs and freak accidents as proof that it was a cold and cruel world out there. I didn't believe in much of anything; God, country, dead Elvis and I'd read enough books to know that if you stared hard enough at anything it would turn into crap. Nothing lasts forever. Everybody dies--cue the tiny violins.
"The book starts fast and cool....In taut, well-sculpted prose, Reid expertly evokes end-of-the-road Fairbanks....[The] extended climax...features expected deaths and panicked rushing through the woods: it's almost badass Keystone Kops meet Blair Witch. Then and earlier, several characters are banged hard in the head; that's what faithful readers will feel like." Publishers Weekly
With the publication of his acclaimed first novel If I Don't Six, Elwood Reid established himself as a young writer with an uncommon gift for peering into the hearts of blue-collar men. Now, Midnight Sun confirms Reid's status as one of the most talented young writers working today.
Jack is a journeyman in his late twenties who finds himself pink-slipped at the end of summer. With a secure job waiting for him in Texas, Jack allows his best friend to talk him into accepting ten thousand dollars from a dying Fairbanks man to travel into the northern wilderness and rescue his daughter from a millennial cult. The journey quickly goes awry, and they stumble into the cult compound only to find themselves in grave physical danger. Here is a taut and gripping tale in the tradition of James Dickey's Deliverance and Jim Harrison's A Good Day to Die.
Jack, the gritty narrator of this dark, gripping novel by Elwood Reid, is a journeyman carpenter in his late twenties whose travels have led him to Alaska. When his pink slip arrives at the end of summer, he allows himself to be talked into an unusual job. Along with his best friend, Burke, Jack accepts ten thousand dollars from a dying Fairbanks man to travel into the northern wilderness and rescue his daughter from a cult.
It doesnt take long before their trip begins to go awry, and things only get worse once they reach the cults camp, where they are received with a hostility that quickly turns violent. Jack soon realizes that Burke knows more than he lets on about their mission and he finds himself on his own, desperately seeking a way out of the camp. Taut, riveting, and complex, Midnight Sun is an arctic Deliverance, a literary thriller set deep in beautiful but dark and indifferent Alaskan woods.