Books by Richard Leo

WAY OUT HERE by Richard Leo
Released: April 29, 1996

A closely observed, pleasurable account of homesteading days and nights in Alaska's remote Susitna Valley from Leo (Edges of the Earth, 1991). Leo shucked Manhattan for the wild beauties of deep Alaska 15 years ago. An urban executive educated at a tony university, he was an unlikely candidate for such a move, but he pulled it off, building his own home six miles from the nearest road, helping to raise a family of three boys, staying put. His land—a spruce and birch wood pocked by meadowlands hard by the flanks of Denali (Mount McKinley) and only a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle- -is a summer rain forest that transforms itself into a winter wonderland with 25 feet of snow and wind-chills dipping to 100 degrees below zero. Leo loves every inch and minute of it, and that passion comes pouring off the page, whether he's extolling the virtues of the boreal forest (alive with the sounds of thrush and warbler), discussing the pleasures of raising his sons in such a setting (his wife is curiously absent from the narrative), even when bemoaning the mosquito plague (118 killed before breakfast). Leo brings to this existence, with its quality of stillness, an empathy that would make Gary Snyder proud: long forays afield exploring Denali's five great glacial watersheds, getting intimate with the locals (plants, animals, and neighbors), talking to his sled dogs. The writing can be self-involved (there's little doubt that Leo thinks quite highly of himself), and one chapter dribbles endlessly on about ``connectedness''—long on good intentions, if too dreamily personal to have much impact. But despite the wifty moments, Leo displays a presence of mind that is alert, aware, and accepting. Few people can be said to have paid as much attention, to have listened as hard, to their patch of earth as Leo. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 15, 1991

An intense, quirky, and feverishly absorbing account of Leo's journey from urban conformity to a wilderness homestead in Alaska. Ten years ago, with little more than a dream, $900, and a game if wary girlfriend, Leo abandoned the safe path seemingly assured for Harvard-educated children of privilege in order to try to live ``way out at the edges instead of just traveling through.'' Unfolding with almost hallucinogenic fervor, this is the intimate, often quite beautiful record of his improbable success. Starting out with virtually no survival skills, this latter-day ``pilgrim'' manages to master such anachronistic necessities as building a house from self-cut logs, handling a dog team, and climbing glacial peaks as he moves from N.Y.C. to ramshackle Talkeetna (pop. 200) and on to his own ridge—with ``no people or roads for a hundred square miles''—nestled in the land below Mt. McKinley. Along the way, there are genuinely charming portraits of the strange assortment of disaffected veterans, ex-cons, ``broccoli'' (Alaskan bush-slang for marijuana) farmers, visionaries, and lost souls attracted to the literal margins of society—and these are matched by brilliantly poetic glimpses of nature closely observed as a daily mystery. Leo himself, disconcertingly, comes across as self- absorbed, pompous, and frantic (constantly seeking ``signs'' and ``angels''; alienating his girlfriend, the mother of his son, by his insistence on solitude over human connection). But perhaps these are precisely the qualities needed to achieve his odd and lovely goal of ``continuity, a lasting home where my son could see what was real: death interwoven with life, inexplicable sorrow and sudden radiance.'' A striking, stubbornly idiosyncratic chronicle of a defiantly different life—and a memorable and often spellbinding book debut. Read full book review >