Jenna Rosen’s life is in turmoil. It has been two years since her son, Bobby, drowned at a resort in Alaska. She has tried everything from therapists to prescription drugs and nothing seems to fill the void in her life. While her husband, Robert, has somehow managed to move on and maintain their lifestyle in Seattle, Jenna is stuck in neutral. Then one night after she gets in a heated argument with Robert at a party, she takes his car and drives. She intends to drive home, but she just keeps on going, until she hits Wrangell, Alaska her Tlingit grandmother’s hometown. What does Jenna find when she’s there? It seems that wherever she goes, she runs into the Tlingit legend of the kushtaka. The kushtaka are spirits, shape-shifting otters, that take souls of drowning victims and folks who are lost in the woods. Why does Jenna keep encountering this legend? It will take all her resolve, the support of a broken fisherman, a spirit-guide named Oscar and a misguided Shaman to help her find out.
Garth Stein is a gifted storyteller. On the one hand this is a very human story of loss and a relationship that has gone sour, on the other hand it is story about spiritual redemption. With a great sense of timing and changing points of view, this novel moves at a fairly quick pace but never feels rushed. I am a notoriously slow reader and I finished this book in about 2 or 3 days. The characters and story were so compelling, I didn’t want to put it down. There were times when the narrative sent chills up my spine or caught me dead in my tracks. I admit I kept reading at some points because I was afraid I was going to be too spooked to go to bed. Yet, Stein weaves the fantastic elements into the story with such grace that they feel believable. I loved the retelling of the Tlingit legends of Raven and the kushtaka and I’m so glad that he includes references in the back, because I want to read more about them. He stresses the point with Raven that there is no good and evil and most of his characters are flawed in such a way that they are a combination of both. I think that is part of what makes the characters so compelling with the exception of one character who is just reprehensible, but he too has his part to play. The secondary characters are particularly likable. I was also impressed, that Stein could write a female main character so well. It’s a testament to his understanding of human nature and his skills as a writer.
Thanks to Sarah Daily from Terra Communications for sending me a copy of this book. Bear in mind that because I got this book for free, I might be swayed to write a good review, but also keep in mind that since I am a librarian I am surrounded by thousands of free books on a daily basis, so I don’t think the lure of free books will cloud my judgment that much! I hope to be as fair and objective with my reviews as possible.