Due North

Mitchell Smith, Author
Mitchell Smith, Author Simon & Schuster $20.5 (0p) ISBN 978-0-671-73877-8
Reviewed on: 11/02/1992
Release date: 11/01/1992
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Smith's obvious firsthand knowledge of an unusual subject, combined with a dramatic restatement of a potent contemporary issue, makes this novel a standout. Widowed trapper Sara Maher survives alone in the wilderness of Alaska's Brooks Range. Her fierce alertness in her solitude and her willful mastery of the physical demands of trapping give an austere sensuality to her subsistence. And when she leaves her homestead to gradually return to civilization-dropping her dogs at an Inuit settlement, trading her furs in Chancy, flying out of Fairbanks to join her divorced sister and dying mother in Seattle-her strength only grows more hypnotic. After what she has endured in extremis, Sara's return is hardly that of an innocent. And Smith trains the same sharp eye for detail on the lower 48's nursing homes and emotionally barren suburbs that he does on the death of a lynx in Alaska. In putting this complex woman in the wilderness and the postindustrial Northwest alike, and showing the human cost of her difficult choices, Smith (Stone City) creates a starkly dramatic odyssey that far outdistances the hands-off pieties of even the best nature writing. The novel, like its uncompromising heroine, stands alone-animal, spiritual, humorous, sharp-tongued. Smith's story inspires unsuspected sympathies for places few have ever been. (Nov.)
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