cover image Raven Stole the Moon

Raven Stole the Moon

Garth Stein. Atria Books, $22 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-671-00459-0

In this unpredictable and absorbing debut, Stein intriguingly blurs the line between legend and conventional reality. Two years ago in a remote Alaskan village, Jenna Rosen's five-year-old son, Bobby, fell out of a boat and drowned, and Jenna was unable to save him. Unable to come to terms with her grief, Jenna leaves her husband in Seattle and returns to the site of the tragedy. Once there, she encounters an assortment of sinisterly quirky characters and learns much about the Indian part of her heritage. She soon comes to a startling conclusion: either she's losing her mind, or her son's soul has been abducted by the kushtaka--Tlingit spirits that are half man, half otter--and can be rescued only by a shaman. As Jenna seeks both to lay her son's soul to rest and to quiet her own guilt and grief, Stein weaves a moving tale that ably charts the gaps between rationalistic and animistic worldviews. Certain elements of the Tlingit legends may remind readers of Dracula lore: human blood breaks kushtaka spells; domestic dogs are their enemies. Occasional shifts to present-tense narration are jarring intrusions, but, for most of the novel, Stein's restrained prose is a good vehicle for Jenna's examination of the nature of religious faith and belief. (Mar.) FYI: Stein, a documentary filmmaker, is the great-grandson of a Tlingit Indian.