Thank you to Netgalley for a free copy of the audio version of this book in exchange for an honest review.
In my twenties I often wondered if I could handle Alaska. In my late 20s I went out to Northern Idaho, where my artist great-uncle and great-aunt lived until some lamentable far-far-far right wing groups invade and before the area was “developed” to cater to tourists and Hollywood. It gave me thoughts of a life lived in peaceful solitude, and the beauty of nature. You are laughing, of course. Never did I consider the WORK involved! LOL So, anyway, Alaska has long been on my radar. About 10 years ago a young friend moved there just for an experience. Even with an excellent health profession, it was so expensive we all mailed her food!
Not too long before Alaska achieved statehood [January 1959], a young woman from Texas journeys to Anchorage to stay with her sister and brother-in-law. Not wanting to go back, she looks around and finds herself a suitable guy. Marie and Lawrence marry and take out a homestead. This is back in the days of American Colonialism, when there were “no” settlers in Alaska because there were only the indigenous people whose land it was.
Lawrence has what we call PTSD today from his stint in the Army during the Korean “Conflict”–it was never declare as a “war.” He deals with it as best he can through hard work or even exercise. Meanwhile, he and Marie set up house in an an old bus modified to have a wood stove, while they clear the land and build a cabin. In town they see “natives” treated badly, but being people of their time and not woke individuals of today, they don’t like it, but they feel they must mind their own business. Lawrence is a little obsessed with “proving” his claim–[maybe a minor spoiler] it ties in a bit with his PTSD. Marie wants to share in the “proving up” of the claim. She though is by now pregnant. Her sister, back in Anchorage, has not been able to have a child. This is predictably a cause of tension between them.
The hard work of the homestead is obvious. Lawrence’s father arrives to help build the cabin and Marie is grateful. Her sister is her sole “support” in terms of a “support network,” as we’d call it today, but Lawrence’s father is soon added to that.
Late in the story, they take a risk and ask to be introduced to a father and son–Native Alaskans. They learn a bit about how they see things. The story does not catapult them (thankfully) into modern views, but they do learn and grown from it.
The parallels are between Lawrence and Marie growing in their marriage and Alaska going through the growing pains from Colonial “Territory” to full statehood–even though many would prefer they be independent (just like Puerto Rico).
In Peace Corps I learned a lot of the idiocy of the “Great White Savior” mentality like bringing in Monsanto for fertilizer so that without it crops failed. Or showing people who had been successfully growing their own food for centuries a “better” way to do it based on what worked in North Dakota. At the time I read this I saw the “other” side of Mt. Rushmore–a mountain that to certain Native Americans symbolized their history. I can honestly say I knew nothing of that. And, while I would still like to see Mt Rushmore, I will view it differently. All of these things, as the woke would say, provide the “lens” though which I viewed the story–or “informed” how I took in the story.
No matter, it is a very compelling story told mostly with the manners and mores of the time–something I value in historical fiction. Not everyone was as clairvoyant as many authors want their historical characters to be. That Lawrence and Marie even agreed to meet Alaskans was a huge deal and made an impression on them.
That said, I did not really “get” the symbolism (if there was any) of Lawrence’s big “thing” [no spoilers]. Was it a modern-day attack on men? Was it something to do with his PTSD? Hmmmmmmm. Otherwise, I thought the book was very “real.” The actions of the characters were believeable. The author planted me firmly in that homestead. I felt the angst of Anchorage residents at statehood as they waited to see if their lives would improve with the Capital being moved there (hint: Capital is still Juneau). This part of the story caught my attention as I was in Peace Corps with one of the Anchorage City Planners from just after that era. Fond memory.
No matter, I enjoyed this book tremendously. I look forward to reading more from this author.
Homestead: A Novel by Melinda Moustakis will be published on February 28, but is available for pre-order in all formats.