A promising debut collection of 15 stories, set in Alaska or concerned with it. The pieces focus mainly on contemplative women who come to terms with loneliness and distance and display the quiet courage required for survival. In the title story, the narrator, 18 years in Alaska, remembers her earlier self (``When I was 20, a skinny girl from Minnesota, I had the great romantic notion that I wanted to live in Alaska'') when she's confronted with Bonnie-who, wanting ``to get down to the essence of life,'' withdraws to an island wilderness and freezes to death. Luck and circumstance often mean the difference between survival and disaster, as in ``Marks,'' where Pam clips salmon fins in a factory and reconstructs the brutal murder of Roni, an acquaintance who chose to survive by dancing nude in a club and living a reckless thrill-seeking life- until one day she took a plane ride with the wrong man. Other stories deal with the idea of Alaska as a place to find a new self: in ``The Lady with the Sled Dog,'' a man interviews a woman who ``has mushed her team over a thousand miles of frozen mountains, through blizzards and darkness,'' and, finally seeking out her ``perfect white world,'' the man is changed in small but irrevocable ways. Still other takes are evocative and moving: ``Volcano,'' about a woman alone after a nearby eruption; ``Snowblind,'' where a woman stateside waits for her Alaskan lover, only to discover he's a deluded romantic (``You know, even if we're not there, we need Alaska to be there''); and the comic ``Why I Live at the Natural History Museum,'' which manages to transport Eudora Welty wholesale to Alaska. There's nary a clinker among these: the collection bears delicate, closely observed witness to a place and to some of the voices that come to terms with it. A writer to watch.