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RED SUMMER by Bill Carter

RED SUMMER

By Bill Carter

Pub Date: May 13th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-7432-9706-6
Publisher: Scribner

Lessons from four grueling summers spent fishing for sockeye salmon in an isolated village on the Alaskan peninsula.

Egegik is part of Bristol Bay, one of the world’s biggest—and last remaining—sockeye salmon runs. Lured by the unparalleled beauty of the Alaskan bush, Carter (Fools Rush In: A True Story of Love, War, and Redemption, 2005) joined the team of Sharon Hart and Carl Adams, seasoned fishermen who earned their colleagues’ respect for their toughness and their peculiar brand of hospitality. The author’s struggle to fit in with the often hostile residents of Egegik prompted him to analyze the community’s warped social structure, engendered by brutal working and living conditions. He spends as much time sketching the characters in the village as he does describing their shared occupation. Hart, Adams and Carter practiced set netting, which involves stretching out a long net and waiting for the salmon to fill it, then laboriously picking out the fish, often for 15 hours at a time. Each day, the team filled their skiffs with thousands of pounds of salmon, which, like the cold water and extreme tides, surrounded the fishermen with plenty of potential complications. Despite the danger, exhaustion and near-constant physical pain, Carter could not resist returning each summer for four years. In Egegik he found a place where nature still rules, where time (as defined by “the Lower 48”) does not exist and where backbreaking work calms the mind, distilling its desires down to the basics of food, shelter and rest. In addition to providing lively anecdotes, Carter explores the larger environmental and cultural circumstances of his job with sensitivity and intelligence, couching the particularities of the fishing process and the salmon life cycle in terms a novice can follow.

A simple but satisfying blend of memoir, cultural anthropology and environmental analysis.