Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 4/26/16
eBook review copy; 384 pages
The Alaskan Laundry by Brendan Jones is a very highly recommended novel about a woman who escapes to Alaska and works hard to find peace and her place in the world. This is a not-to-be-missed debut featuring a strong woman who learns to face her problems head-on and overcome them.
Tara Marconi has run away from Philadelphia, her father Urbano, the family bakery, boxing, and her boyfriend Connor. She has traveled to a remote, rugged Alaskan island called "the Rock" aka Archangel Island, with plans to work for a year at a fish hatchery there. After a rough start she works her way through the commercial fishing industry and stays more than the original planned one year. Tara finds herself drawn to an old WWII tug boat that is for sale and she makes it her goal to earn enough money to buy the boat and a place to call her own.
Tara makes friends and meets an odd assortment of individuals involved with commercial fishing. She fights her way through the tough, brutal jobs and her anger toward her father, as well as the depression she had fallen into in Philly. She also has to come to terms with her mother's death, memories from her childhood, and an incident she has never talked about that scarred her as a teen. Tara regains her confidence and discovers a sense of self and purpose - not without struggles, bumps and bruises- through hard work and raw determination.
Her friend tells her that we are put on this earth to learn to love honestly and cleanly and people are drawn to living in Alaska to help them achieve this:
"'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.' He winked at her.
'I’m trying,' she said."
I found The Alaskan Laundry to be very well written. The narrative consists of short chapters that mirror the independent steps Tara is making toward self-discovery and true empowerment. Brendan Jones' real life experiences and knowledge of the commercial fishing industry makes this novel even more compelling to read. You can tell that he knows what he is writing about. His descriptions of the people, the setting, the landscape, and even the smells are pitch perfect in establishing a real sense of place.
I'm glad I read this coming-of-age story, even if I was at times telling Tara in my head, "Oh no, sweetie, don't do that..." Tara is an imperfect protagonist, but you will be rooting for her, hoping she does find the peace and sense of self and purpose that she needs as she figures out how to navigate her way and work at various difficult jobs. The Alaskan Laundry is one of those novels that will stay with you.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for review purposes.