NIGHTS OF ICE by Spike Walker


True Stories of Disaster and Survival on Alaska's High Seas
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 The Bering Sea in January can be a mean place, as Walker (Working on the Edge, 1991) relates in this spine-tingling (if redundant) collection--particularly when the winds clip by at 100 mph, the waves crest at 60 feet, the water temperature is 38 degrees, it's nightime, and your boat is sinking. Walker has no time for foreshadowing here, no time to develop mood or characters. These are grab-you-by-the-throat, rip-snorting tales of disaster on furious high seas and of the outrageous efforts made by both rescuers and those in the drink to beat the odds for survival in the Bering's icy waters. There is not much variation in these eight tales: In hellacious weather, a fishing vessel founders. Sometimes it runs aground or overturns with the accumulated weight of ice, or it just springs a leak. Then it all comes down to hypothermia and how fast it steals your life. The rescues are thus all just in the nick of time, and Walker plays them for all they're worth. But the lack of variety here, combined with Walker's tendency to overdeploy stock sentences--``His terror became resolve,'' and ``He thought of his lovely young wife,'' and ``This is the end!''--robs the stories of their specific identities. What saves the best ones is Walker's fastening on a particular element: the godawful storms, known as williwaws, that boom out of the coastal mountains, their impossible winds freighted with ice and snow (vigorously described in the chapter ``Chopper Rescue: Men in Peril''); or the cheekiness of Tim White (in the chapter titled ``The Face of an Angel''), who stayed warm by working hard at being a badass. It is said that America's most dangerous profession is commercial fishing on Alaska's high seas. Even a quick dip into this collection will convince you of that.

Pub Date: Sept. 19th, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-15611-1
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1997


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