THE ALASKAN LAUNDRY -- a fierce, lost young woman finds herself through the hard work of fishing and the stubborn love of real friendship
The Alaskan Laundry by Brendan Jones (2016, Mariner Books; 384 pages)
This is an impressive debut novel from Sitka author Brendan Jones, and it deserves all its many accolades -- including being named an Oprah's Book Club pick.
Following the death of her mother and the widening of a seemingly impassable rift with her father, 18-year-old Tara Marconi has run away from her home in Philadelphia, leaving the family bakery, her boyfriend Connor, and a troubled past behind her. She travels to the remote, rugged Alaskan island town of Port Anna, aka “the Rock” (a fictional stand-in for Sitka), with plans to work for a year at a fish hatchery. At first glance, no one believes she will last a week, let alone a year in this majestic, rugged frontier. But after a rough start, Tara works her way through the commercial fishing industry – from hatchery worker, to deck hand to king crabber -- and stays much longer than she originally planned. Tara finds herself drawn to an old WWII tug boat that is for sale, and she becomes obsessed with earning enough money to buy the boat and a place to call her own.
This book gets some attention for the fact that Jones writes from the female perspective, and he does a commendable job with Tara's characterization, making her tough (she's a boxer), tenacious, and vulnerable. But what makes this novel so special is the author's first-hand knowledge of the world he portrays – the world of the Alaska fishing industry and the people who spend their lives in it -- and his brilliant evocation of that world. Brendan Jones has lived this story. Raised in Philadelphia, he took a Greyhound west at the age of 19, ending up in Sitka, where he commercial fished, and eventually came to stay. He has made his home on a World War II tugboat in Sitka, which he renovated himself, and he continues to fish commercially. Indeed, The Alaskan Laundry serves as a master course in Alaska’s fishing industry. The reader learns how to perform these jobs and survive from the ground up through Tara’s eyes – from a greenhorn just starting work in a fish hatchery, then graduating to processor in a fish processing plant, then as a deckhand on a fishing boat in Southeast, and finally to king crabber in the Bering Sea. Everything Jones describes -- the people, the setting, the landscape, and even the smells -- are pitch perfect in establishing a real sense of place. His love of the lifestyle he describes informs the story, and makes the reader want to chuck it all and join him, hardships and all. Reading this book is an immersive experience -- the characters are so well defined, the different aspects of forging a living in the fishing community, the landscape lovingly and sensually presented.
"'So we’re all tumbling around in the Alaskan laundry out here. If you do it right you get all that dirt washed out, then turn around and start making peace with the other sh*t. Maybe even make a few friends along the way."
This is a book about Alaska that goes beyond the wilderness and investigates the hearts of the people who are drawn to make this "great land" their home.
Find this title in our catalog: The Alaskan Laundry
Recommended by: Greg