A father and son bond through several months of self-exile in the remote borderlands of northern Minnesota.
Geye has chosen a complex narrative strategy, one that mirrors the complexity of the relationships he dramatizes. At the center is Gustav “Gus” Eide, who’s distraught at the disappearance of his father, Harry. Gus goes to see Berit Lovig, the narrator of the story and Harry's former lover, to tell her the story of another time Harry disappeared, 33 years earlier, in the winter of 1963-64. At that time Harry and 18-year-old Gus take a canoe trip northward, following the treks previously done by ancient voyageurs, whose fierce independence Harry has come to admire. Unbeknownst to Gus, who thinks they’re taking their voyage into the wilderness to test themselves, Harry has another motive—to escape the unfortunately named Charlie Aas, a local big man about town but also a bully and the secret lover of Harry’s wife, Lisbet. Leaving at the time of year they do, Harry and Gus find the elements lined up against them—ice and snow are among their greatest threats—but Geye is interested in conflicts between men as well as between man and nature, because Harry is convinced that Charlie will be tracking them. And sure enough, eventually Charlie shows up—and he’s both angry and aggressive. As Harry and Gus square off against him, the reader feels that civilization is a very good thing indeed. The confrontation is dramatic and violent and leads to a secret father and son share for years. As the story unfolds in the present day, Gus, now a husband and father himself, reveals his intuitions about Harry and Berit’s relationship.
Reminiscent of Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, Geye’s narrative takes us deep into both human and natural wilderness.