Tough-guy writer Reid (What Salmon Know, 1999, etc.) jacks up his prose with a movie-scenario plot that poorly serves his talent for clean and straight-forward writing.
This relatively talky narrative quickly loses credibility with its mythic aspirations and its obvious reworkings of writers like Conrad, Golding, Traven, Dickey, and even Alex Garland (the recent Beach). If Garland’s Shangri-la was an obscure patch of sand and sun in Southeast Asia, Reid’s is a cold and isolated valley in the Arctic Circle—both communities, though, are aspiring utopias that soon reveal their structural weaknesses, and unravel in orgies of violence. Reid’s protagonist, a college-dropout carpenter by the name of Jack, embarrassed by his soft averageness, allows himself to be talked into “one last big-time adventure” by his older colleague, the hard-as-nails Burke, who mocks the slumming “college boy.” Together, they agree to find and return a dying man’s daughter who apparently has taken up with a cult deep in the northern wilderness, “the last frontier” beyond the law, according to Reid. What they find after their difficult trek is something more and less: what was once an open and free community has become captive to its leader’s madness, and his unwillingness to dispense the gold that all of them have been secretly stockpiling. Not so secretly, though, that Burke and the old man didn’t know beforehand, and that Jack discovers only after the overwrought (and overwritten) denouement. The Kurtz-like buildup to meeting the commune’s leader never pays off, in a short novel full of misleads and clumsy exposition.
Worst of all, Reid’s dark take on New Age madness ends in moral confusion—and it doesn’t seem deliberate or artful, just simply confused. Might be perfect for the big screen after all.