Midnight Sun

Elwood Reid, Author
Elwood Reid, Author Doubleday Books $23.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-385-49736-7
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-385-49737-4
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-0-307-42689-5
Paperback - 370 pages - 978-2-226-13271-0
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Ever see someone run, with style, right into a wall? That's about what happens in Reid's second novel (after If I Don't Six and last year's short fiction collection What Salmon Know). The book starts fast and cool, with a rough setting (Fairbanks, Alaska), tough characters (narrator/drifter Jack and his construction crew pal Burke) and a macho mission: for $5,000, to canoe and then trek into the state's wilds to bring back to her dying dad a young woman, Penny, who may belong to a backwoods cult. In taut, well-sculpted prose, Reid expertly evokes end-of-the-road Fairbanks, his characters' physical and spiritual rootlessness and the magnificent, dangerous country they travel through. The threat of violence shades the pages like storm clouds and erupts when the two men, near their goal, are set upon by a mysterious young man carrying a gun and some gold; Burke kills him, not quite in self-defense. So far, so very good; but when Jack and Burke reach their destination, the novel's coiled tension unravels, tugged apart by overplotting and portentous thematicizing and symbolism. The cult isn't a cult, but a group of losers bound by a quasi-teacher, Nunn, a once-handsome devil whose face is now half beautiful, half monstrous, scarred by a recent bear attack. Just so, the losers' camp represents hope for some, who have nowhere else to go, but it also harbors evil, fueled by greed for the gold that the camp is mining nearby--all this revealed through numerous incidents (conversations, couplings, fights), strung together with little dramatic urgency, involving Jack, Burke and assorted group members. The evil wins out in an extended climax that features expected deaths and panicked rushing through the woods: it's almost badass Keystone Kops meet Blair Witch. Then and earlier, several characters are banged hard in the head; that's what faithful readers will feel like. (Oct.)
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