All about passion, whether for flesh or fortune, romance or adventure, this sweeping debut renders poetically the dynamics of desire.
As the 20th century dawns, intrepid Essie Crummey joins gold prospectors heading far north. Stark, remote, exotic Alaska, she senses, will free her from Midwestern malaise, the small life of a farmer’s wife. A fugitive from an abusive marriage, she draws close to Nate Deaton, visionary foreman of the Cape Nome Company, whose dreams are Promethean—he intends to “establish the largest steam dredge in the history of mining on the entire Seward Peninsula”—but whose spirit is gentle. Laconic, introspective, he’s a bird-fancier, a bit of a nature mystic. He hires Essie to tend the company’s horses, and she thrives at that tough, ministering labor. But she’s haunted. Dogging her trail is her past with Leonard, the husband she has spurned. The id incarnate, a dark, rapacious brooder out of D.H. Lawrence, he’s as enamored of his jug and his tantrums as he is of Essie. He is, moreover, ferociously possessive. And as he begins stalking the woman who dared flee him, she’s torn between two embodiments of male energy—Nate, stalwart and strong, and Leonard, unchecked force. Violent lyricism animates Brown’s prose and powerful zest drives his saga. Characters such as Major French, battle-scarred veteran of San Juan Hill, and Alexander McKenzie, a doughty entrepreneur and psychic brother to the Carnegies and Vanderbilts, help make the historical spirit of the story ring true, and descriptions of period sea-faring and gold-digging help the reader experience the past. And yet it’s as a tale of perennial obsessions—greed, sex, love and fevered need—that the book really works.
Bold, occasionally brutal.