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A tense, shrewdly modulated sea adventure in which a quartet of indentured Scandinavians attempt escape from Russian America (1853 Alaska) in a stolen canoe, a Pacific journey far more rugged ""than the plain arithmetic of its miles."" Of the four, only one is seaworthy at the start, but each pulls his own as they paddle through snowstorms and dangerous straits, consume their rations and personal reserves. Melander is the beached seaman who conceives the plan and navigates; Karlsson's the quiet, constant mate; Braaf is the camp thief who outfits the voyage (he remains the least developed of the lot). And Wennberg, his trigger ""always this close to click,"" is the bitter, volcanic fourth who muscled in; kept in check by Melander, he adds a blacksmith's strength to the paddling. But Melander is killed in the sole encounter with coastal tribesmen, and Karlsson, Wennberg's chief antagonist, must take over for the fugitive alliance to hold: he alone can read the map. Doig deftly pilots this mismatched crew through a punishing journey to Astoria (Oregon), maintaining a high level of tension, including casual portions of history and geography (as handily as in Winter Brothers), testing the rocky emotional waters of desperate men. The two squabblers nearly attempt a communion, but the moment ""quickened past them"": the shaky truce resumes. And readers who hailed This House of Sky and Winter Brothers will find this another safe harbor, for Doig continues as a prose writer of exulting originality. (Verbs become nouns, nouns become verbs, and observations resonate: the reserved Karlsson is ""A man built smoke-tight."") Distant cousin to Deliverance--the writing is more lyrical, the crew less fiercely manipulated: a polished chronicle of physical and spiritual endurance.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1982
ISBN: 0156031027
Publisher: Atheneum