In Starypan’s debut novel, a random act of compassion leads to an eventful, winding journey of self-realization and transcendence.
The novel’s protagonist, nicknamed “Biter,” finds himself out of a job as a zoo employee when he decides to release a recently acquired wolverine back into the forests of the Pacific Northwest. This radical decision costs him his livelihood, but it also affords him a chance to rethink his life’s plan. He tracks down his friend, JT, and an acquaintance, Ryan, and soon sets out on a trip through Washington state’s rugged Pasayten Wilderness. During the journey, he briefly becomes disconnected from the group, prompting him to think about an earlier time when he almost froze to death on another mountain. After he safely returns home, he patches together a living from a handful of odd, but oddly rewarding, jobs. As a restaurant dishwasher, he meets Mickey, a down-and-out war veteran who suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder due to witnessing the gruesome combat death of his friend. Biter also gets work as a research assistant for a professor studying clams. Happily, though, he ends up as a bartender at the Red Dragon, a local hangout where JT also works, where he can cultivate a new beginning. But just when things are settling down, tragedy occurs, and Biter must decide whether he can sustain his new life. This gently written yet perky novel grew out of an attempt by Starypan to write a memoir; he even shares his fictional protagonist’s nickname. The result is simultaneously moving and unsentimental. It manages to link together what initially seem to be nothing more than a series of discrete, disjointed episodes in one man’s haphazard life. Throughout, the author weaves Biter’s memories of his past into his present-day narrative, rendering the main story all the richer. In doing so, he creates a thoughtful, quirky and even comic chronicle that demonstrates how even apparent chaos can resolve into a coherent story.
A warming, delightful novel unabashed in its depiction of life’s eccentricities.