The sad account of a sad young man pursuing his dead father through the wastes of Alaska: a lugubrious first novel that runs aground on the narrator's grief. In 1983 in Kodiak, Alaska, Jack Dempsey Cliff drives a cab during the long night before his 30th birthday. An expatriate farmboy from Wisconsin, he has come north to escape his girlfriend's pregnancy, just as his own father had three decades before. ``It was a survival tactic, going to Alaska....Jack was tired of waiting for a dead father to come home. And he was so tired of being angry he didn't think he could feel anything else anymore.'' In Kodiak, he works the night-shift, hangs out with the other drifters, and picks up anecdotes about his father, who had fished the waters nearby for 15 years until he went down in an ice- storm. This is a story of anticipation and grief, in which the metaphor of Jack's flight is meant to show the desperation of his quest, the fury of his anxiety: we are reminded throughout that Jack's father was a survivor--a boxer, a prisoner of war who had outlived the death marches and Hell Ships of Bataan--and we are obviously meant to see Jack's exile as an attempt to discover within himself the foundation of that strength that had sustained his father. Unfortunately, though, Cates decides at the last minute that his story is a tragedy rather than a pilgrimage, and tacks on a baroque climax that is as absurd as it is incongruous. Soggy melodrama without much originality.