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Bear Down, Bear North: Alaska Stories…

Bear Down, Bear North: Alaska Stories (Flannery O'Connor Award for…

by Melinda Moustakis

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These short stories, mostly focused on families living hardscrabble lives in rural Alaska, are accomplished. Several experiment with form, sharing a series of vignettes with linked themes, building to greater meanings ('The Mannequin in Soldotna', 'They Find the Drowned'). The stories of family dysfunction reminded me of Faulkner's stories of poor whites in Yoknapatawpha County - brooding or sometimes explicit violence, oppressive relationships, material want, and a literary style that relies on the reader to tune in and pick up some key details by interference. The stories about Polar Bear's family in particular reminded me of 'As I Lay Dying'. I see why this collection won the Flannery O'Conner award when it was published, but I also found several of the stories in the middle of the collection hard to relate to, and was more appalled than moved to empathy by the plight of their characters. Favorite stories include the micro-fiction, 'Trigger', about conception; 'Miners and Trappers', about a complicated brother-sister relationship; 'Mr. Fur Face Needs a Girlfriend' about a drifter on a fishing boat; and especially the vignette-formed stories mentioned above. ( )
1 vote bezoar44 | Mar 4, 2017 |
Bear Down, Bear North is a masterfully written collection of stories. Melinda Moustakis shows off her prowess of voice and perspective. These stories, which are connected to one another in person and place, are written in first person (both singular and plural), third person, and even (thrice) second person. Moustakis is able to write in each of these and through the eyes of each of her characters with smooth precision. While some of the perspectives are jarring, as a reader, to step into, they are done with great skill. Moustakis understands the voice of these characters and does her best to deliver them in a way the reader will understand.

The overall feel of each story is poetic. The language is sparse and musical, but the book's poetic nature does not end there. There is a resonance that reminds the reader of poetry. These pieces are economical, with every word chosen carefully; they paint a picture, not so much a story, that leaves the reader with thoughts and emotions, but little plot to hold onto.

Despite the book's poeticism and Moustakis' smooth style, these stories are gritty. You'll walk away with a feeling that there is dirt grinding away at your teeth. You'll check your fingernails for grime. You'll want to trample on the carcass of a dead animal, strip naked, and pray that the rain will come and drench your miserable soul. Part of you may wish you were in Alaska, roughing it yourself, but what would be the need? Moustakis has already taken you there. ( )
  chrisblocker | Mar 30, 2013 |
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In a year filled with more than a few bleak, strong debut anthologies with a guiding location—Miroslav Penkov’s East Of The West or Frank Bill’s Crimes In Southern Indiana fit the bill—Melinda Moustakis’ debut collection, Bear Down Bear North: Alaska Stories might be the strongest of them all. A series of linked stories set around the homesteads and rural cabins of Anchorage, Alaska, this slim volume delivers a powerful look into the lives of three generations and how an unforgiving environment wears them down as they grow.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0820338931, Hardcover)

In her debut collection, Melinda Moustakis brings to life a rough-and-tumble family of Alaskan homesteaders through a series of linked stories. Born in Alaska herself to a family with a homesteading legacy, Moustakis examines the near-mythological accounts of the Alaskan wilderness that are her inheritance and probes the question of what it means to live up to larger-than-life expectations for toughness and survival.

The characters in Bear Down, Bear North are salt-tongued fishermen, fisherwomen, and hunters, scrappy storytellers who put themselves in the path of destruction—sometimes a harsh snowstorm, sometimes each other—and live to tell the tale. While backtrolling for kings on the Kenai River or filleting the catch of the Halibut Hellion with marvelous speed, these characters recount the gamble they took that didn’t pay off, or they expound on how not only does Uncle Too-Soon need a girlfriend, the whole state of Alaska needs a girlfriend. A story like “The Mannequin at Soldotna” takes snapshots: a doctor tends to an injured fisherman, a man covets another man’s green fishing lure, a girl is found in the river with a bullet in her head. Another story offers an easy moment with a difficult mother, when she reaches out to touch a breaching whale.

This is a book about taking a fishhook in the eye, about drinking cranberry lick and Jippers and smoking Big-Z cigars. This is a book about the one good joke, or the one night lit up with stars, that might get you through the winter.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:06 -0400)

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