Fools' Gold

Richard Wiley, Author Alfred A. Knopf $18.95 (291p) ISBN 978-0-394-56865-2
Wiley's second novel (following his PEN/Faulkner Award-winning Soldiers in Hiding ) is a subdued, reflective portrait of the adventurers and fortune-seekers who journeyed to the barely settled town of Nome, Alaska, in 1899, hoping to ride the crest of a gold rush. What many found instead was a harsh Arctic climate that offered little in the way of sustenance, let alone wealth. Coming from worlds as distant and different as America, Ireland and Japan, the explorers had to learn to trust one another's cultural rituals and those of the indigenous Eskimo population. The author interweaves several stories as they unfold over the course of a year. Some of them are straight and vivid: an old Japanese man keeps himself company through the long freeze by recounting the entire history of his country; a young woman opens the town's first bathhouse, later using it as a political base; a preacher holds his flock by creating Bible stories with such characters as Andrew the Suicidal. For the most part, however, the characters here remain dusty tintypes that never come to life, and their plights and aspirations are dramatized only from a distance. (September)
Reviewed on: 08/05/1988
Release date: 08/01/1988
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