Prolific essayist Hoagland (Sex and the River Styx, 2011, etc.) vividly reflects on a time, 30 years ago, when he repeatedly fled his failing second marriage to follow a younger nurse through Alaska.
The nurse was testing the locals for tuberculosis and treating a wide variety of ailments, from injuries resulting from a jet-ski accident to wounds from a bar fight. “At Seattle the business suits scuttled off officiously, to be supplanted by jitterily jean-clad, provisional souls, Alaska-bound roughnecks who looked like hijackers," Hoagland writes of the flights before his adventures. His trips, paid for by assignments from magazine editors, led him to interview the new millionaires making their claim on the state to natives such as Hubert Koonuk, who single-handedly killed 36 polar bears. Like an anthropological study, Hoagland records the details of Koonuk’s traditional life, such as the craftsmanship of his skin boat, which he used for hunting seals and bowhead whales. With the same verve, the author profiles Bob Uchitel, who brought cable TV to the far reaches of the Alaskan wilds following a successful construction company, sponsorship of a prizefighter in the lower 48 and several other profitable businesses, before dying a recluse with a Maserati and Corvette in his garage. Hoagland inserts historical facts about the towns and cities he visited, and he provides plenty of appealing natural descriptions of a wondrous landscape.
A pleasing combination of personal essays and reflections, a love story and a naturalist's view of one of the last unspoiled lands.