This is a richly absorbing and dark, domestic drama that combines the natural, icy world of the Alaska frontier with a story of deceptive love and betrayal. If Steinbeck and Hemingway married the best of Anita Shreve, you would get David Vann’s CARIBOU ISLAND. His prose is terse and the characterizations are subtle, but knifing. Like Shreve, his characters are saturated with loneliness and disconnection with their lives, with each other, in a pit of misperception, despair and exile, in a conflict of selves that beat each other down. The topography and remoteness of this “exclave” state, a place non-contiguous physically with its legal attachment (of the US) serves as one of many metaphors to the attachments exemplified in this story.

January 18, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: 2011 Favorites, Alaska, Character Driven, Contemporary, Family Matters, Reading Guide, Wild West


Many people think of Alaska as wildness with great open spaces in a mountainous wildernous with sub-arctic cold, dark and long winters, ever-light summers, bears and moose. This is not the Alaska of David Vann. His Alaska consists of what sounds like an area most likely the Tongass National Rain Forest. This is the northernmost rainforest on earth, and it extends into southeast Alaska. Trees here are huge but grow close together here much like in the Amazon. It rains up to 400 inches a year in this part of Alaska and the days are often dark and dismal with damp that cuts right through you. There is no vista in this forest; all you have are the trees that hem you in.

January 18, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: 2011 Favorites, Alaska, Character Driven, Contemporary, Literary

OLD BORDER ROAD by Susan Froderberg

Dozens of books have promised the sentiment “for lovers of Cormac McCarthy” and left me sorely disappointed. But, in this claim, Froderberg is truly McCarthy’s literary offspring, echoing his hot, haunting brand of southwest essence, desert landscape, and gothic narrative elixir, if not yet fully capturing his linguistic sublimity and lethal, graveyard humor. In this ambitious debut novel, the author explores desperate and broken souls living through a drought in southern Arizona—a land of sand and scrub, cactus stands, spiny shrubs, bitterbrush, dusty maiden, diamondbacks, rodeos, distant foothills, punishing climate, and an endless starlit sky.

December 9, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Debut Novel, Theme driven, US Southwest, Wild West

SETTLED INTO THE WILD by Susan Hand Shetterly

As the title suggests, this is a book about living close to nature, or rather, being a part of nature while cognizant of that important and salient fact. For, what more can we be reminded of, if not reminded that we are biology first? It is easy to forget that we are made of the salt of the sea and the grist the land, that atoms and molecules somehow cohere and survive and become…us. That is the delicate core of the quiet little book. We are of nature, let us not forget. The writing in this tradition is long and rich and deep. Henry David Thoreau to Audubon to Anne Dillard and E.O. Wilson–all master practitioners of the genre. And now Susan Hand Shetterly. She is in heady company and she belongs there. This book is spellbinding.

November 14, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: NE & New York, Non-fiction

SANCTUARY LINE by Jane Urquhart

Consider memory. At any time, a person’s mind potentially holds the sum total of all her experience, though she may not be able to access all of it. She may have forgotten details, until reminded by revisiting a place or picking up a keepsake. There may be memories too hurtful to recall, until the recounting of simpler things clears a pathway to them. There may be things that she cannot understand until the light of maturity suddenly reveals their meaning. Unlike a tale told chronologically, a novel based on memory contains its entire story in outline from the first pages on — although it remains unclear in detail, emotion, and significance until we have lived long enough in the narrator’s mind to explore her past from within. And Jane Urquhart, in the gradual unspooling of memory that is the essence of her latest novel, allows us to inhabit the mind of Liz Crane, her protagonist and narrator, as though it were our own. This is a novel about memory, nostalgic, partial, sometimes painful, but always intriguing.

October 4, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: Canada, Contemporary, Family Matters, Literary, Theme driven, y Award Winning Author

THE WILDING by Benjamin Percy

Although Justin Caves is a grown man now, one incident from his childhood in Oregon regularly returns to haunt him: he once comes face-to-face with a wounded bear in the woods outside his house. Worse, his father encourages him not to be a “pantywaist” but to aim his rifle carefully and shoot it. The all-consuming terror and helplessness he felt then, has never gone away.

September 28, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Literary, US Northwest