I just have to say that this book is a delight to read. Ivey is great at using descriptions without letting them get in the way of the book. It’s almost as if she has been able to pull you out of your own mind and put you in hers while she walks you through the story.
That being said, she also uses her descriptive powers for the characterizations. She’s not just good at fulfilling your senses about surroundings; she also gives you a feel for the characters as if you have also been through the same things, experienced the same thoughts, and had the same emotions.
Warning: Spoiler Alerts
Warning: Possible Triggers (suicide)
I suppose it helps that many of us have been through some of these circumstances: unable to have a child whether due to physiology or finances, losing a child, or suicidal ideation and even attempts. Many of us have had to carry these heavy burdens. Relating to the characters in such a way is definitely an added bonus, but I think Ivey would convince many to relate even if they never had those specific experiences.
Due to all of these reasons, I am hooked. I am right there with Mabel as she’s precariously walking along the cracking ice that rests on the deep river, my toes curling as if to grip onto some unseen sheet of ice myself.
I can feel the cold air and imagine the body aches and callouses Jack has developed after working so hard in the elements.
I can feel their thin clothes on my own skin and imagine what it must be like to subsist off of carrots and potatoes, alone
But I wonder, of all places, why Alaska? I’m sure I will find out later on, but why go so far away. I know they wanted to get away from the gossip after losing their child, but I’m sure Mabel could have used her family’s influence to secure a decent job for Jack and, quite possible, herself as well. Why travel to Alaska in the 1920’s when the homesteads were still being cleared.
As is stated many times in the book, Jack is no spring chicken. Why choose a way of life that is so physically difficult?
I’m sure an explanation is coming, but until then, why?
I think a lot of what comes through for me is “making due”. It seems like that is what many people are struggling with, today, and is something that is universally understood.
Hell, when I had my first
closet apartment, I had to make due plenty. I washed my clothes in the sink kitchen’s double sink, bathed in the small bathroom sink, and used a single ‘burner’ hot pad to make my weekly portions of spaghetti. Every now and again, I was lucky to be able to afford to buy a bit of hamburger to put in. No wonder I was so skinny, I was living off of pasta.
Getting by is something that everyone, aside from the 1%, can relate to. Not only when it comes to the physical aspects of life (washing clothes in the sink), but also the emotional (trying to keep a lid on the simmering anxiety that rests beneath the surface). These are things many of us struggle with on a daily basis. It is an inherent part of our lives.
Another thing that is related to this is the seeming lack of control we have over our own lives. This hits home with the fact that Mabel and Jack have to live off of whatever they can grow in a season and on a small plot of land. Also, when Jack notices the snow in the mountains and thinks to himself about how it’s going to be snowing in the valley soon.
We very often forsee circumstances in our lives that we know we have little to no control over. All we can do is “hunker down” a.k.a., make the necessary preparations and brace for impact.
Many of us employ coping strategies to convince ourselves everything will be alright. Like George Benson did when he gave advice to Jack about just needing a bit of moose meat to get through the winter. Benson seemed completely satisfied in this information and seemed to think it would change Jack’s situation for the better.
In the third chapter, I think the loneliness Mabel feels really hits home. She feels like an outsider to Jack finding new friends. She was under the impression that the two of them were in it together, everyone else be damned. I think this is a sentiment I can readily relate to. And also the fact that her husband, Jack, is pushing Mable further and further away while growing ever more close to the neighbors around him.
Mabel doesn’t understand that this friendship is not just needed emotionally, it’s needed to survive. It takes more hands on deck and the romantic notion of cutting one’s own bit of land out starts to fall apart.
Granted, the only reason Jack is trying to keep Mabel isolated is to prevent her from being hurt, again. He feels guilty for not being there for his wife and his solution is to keep her contained.
The experience of having the Benson’s come out to help Jack is very showing of the uncontrollable emotional circumstances Mabel is facing. Mabel knows what she should say and do to be polite, but is unable to due to her confusion and pain. This just increases her isolation as she supposes everyone carries a negative opinion of her because of said behavior.
Having struggled with social anxiety my entire life, this is something that I can absolutely relate to. I know how people see me, or at least I think I do, but there is nothing I can do about it. It is what it is.
But this is the same struggle Mable deals with as she attempts to socialize with the Bensons and answer their innocuous questions.
Most importantly, my question is answered. Why they moved to Alaska of all places. Sounds like something I would try to force my husband to do.
So, in just three chapters, I’ve come to learn about the nuances of not only Jack and Mabel’s marriage, but also how they are each coping with it. They are both of them so intent on doing what they think is best for the other, that they are tripping over their good intentions and falling flat on their faces
I am also revelling in the interactions between Jack and the Bensons, and Mabel and the Bensons. I feel like a fly on the wall. “If only Esther knew the real reason Mabel was reluctant. It’s not solely about the moose.”
I was taken a little aback by the Bensons. Although I heartily enjoy their hard working attitudes, they do know what Jack and Mabel are going through survival wise. It would have been nice if they had given them some meat since they have boys of their own who can hunt. Jack and Mabel could have proved themselves another year when they were more prepared. It doesn’t sound extremely neighborly to me.
I knew I was going to relate to this book, I just didn’t think it would be so thoroughly. I am a little reluctant to continue, but I am eager to learn about what is next to come. Will Mabel finally shed her proper upbringing and get her hands dirty? Will Jack finally let her?