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The Sea Runners: A Novel, by Ivan Doig.

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016 Posted in Washington Reads | Comments Off on The Sea Runners: A Novel, by Ivan Doig.


waves-crashing-on-the-rocks-by-axel-rouvinThe Sea Runners: A Novel. By Ivan Doig. (New York: Atheneum, 1982. 279 pp. Map.)

Recommendation submitted by:
Will Stuivenga, Cooperative Projects Manager, Washington State Library, Tumwater, WA.

There exists an actual letter-to-the-editor published in the Oregon Weekly Times, mentioning three Scandinavians who had managed to travel by canoe from Russian Alaska to Shoalwater (now named Willapa) Bay in 1852/53. Doig’s novel imagines what their trek must have been like, full of trepidations and tribulations, all the way up to and including loss of life.

At the time, apparently the Russians recruited Swedes, Finns, and other “outlanders” as 7-year indentured laborers, to do the real work for the Russian-American Company’s fur-gathering enterprise headquartered in New Archangel, now Sitka, Alaska. It was not a pleasant place much of the time: cold, wet, rough, and not very civilized, with the Russians lording it over the “thugs, thieves, hopeless sots, no few murderers, . . . debtors, escaped serfs,” and the rest of “the flotsam of any vast frontier” as Doig describes them.

So perhaps it’s not too surprising that one of them, Melander by name, a former ship’s first mate, decides to plan a way out, recruiting a couple of his fellows to assist him. The idea is fairly straightforward: he engages the best thief among his fellows to squirrel away the supplies they need: food, maps, a compass, etc., and they intend to steal a large cedar canoe from the local native encampment and paddle their way south to Astoria, where they expect to find passage on the ships that stop there. As the story unfolds, the also indentured blacksmith notices what’s happening, and forces his way into the group, making for a frequently skeptical and less than enthusiastic fourth.

Their imagined adventures, replete with inner turmoil, plus all too real privations and misery, are ably described in intricate detail by the author. Doig’s language here is at times a bit convoluted, requiring careful attention to unravel his precise intent, which is not altogether a bad thing, given that the story and the imagery are worthy of the effort. As is not uncommon with Doig, the interior life, thoughts, and feelings of his characters are of at least equal significance to the landscape and actual events as they unfold. Recommended for anyone with a strong interest in NW history and landscape, and who enjoys well-crafted historical fiction.

ISBN: 978-0-15-603102-8

Available in the Pacific Northwest Collection at NW 813.6 DOIG 1982
Available as an eBook. Not yet available in Digital Talking Book or Braille format.

Examine the development of the PNW literary tradition with this WA Read

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 Posted in Washington Reads | Comments Off on Examine the development of the PNW literary tradition with this WA Read


The Pacific Northwest: Growth of a Regional Identity By Raymond Gastil and Banett Singer. (Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., Publishers, 2010. 221 p.)

The Pacific Northwest: Growth of a Regional Identity attempts to distill and define the major themes and players in the Pacific Northwestern literature as they trace the development of both the style and substance of the writing represented in our regional literary tradition.  The book is not a comprehensive review, but does touch upon major ideas such as the importance of the geography and climate on author identity, the balancing tension of early 20th century radicalism against pioneer tradition and historical irony as essential thematic elements in the writing.  The authors of this book blend a serious academic commitment to the subject with a conversational tone, which brightens and propels the reading experience. This analysis of the regional literature makes a valuable contribution to Pacific Northwest literary criticism.

Many acknowledge that this analysis began with the salty rant Status Rerum (1927) written by two renegades named Harold Lenoir Davis and James Stevens. At the time, Davis and Stevens were still struggling writers dismayed with what they deemed an insipid regional literary scene.  They set out to skewer florid, sentimental, and sensationalistic writing that permeated the local writing, attempting to spur on better craft and a more honest representation of life in this land.  Later on, both the authors went on to regional and national acclaim.  H. L. Davis’ Honey in the Horn (1935) remains the only Pulitzer recipient for literature awarded to a Pacific Northwesterner, while Stevens’ Paul Bunyan (1925) help to transform an outlandish lumberjack tale into a beloved piece of American folklore.

Gastil and Singer’s analysis reaches back to place the Lewis and Clark Expedition Journals, The Hudson Bay Company, missionary journalism and correspondence, and Native American oral tradition as precursors to the literary tradition.  They discuss the problems and the merits of apocryphal interpretations of the Chief Seattle “ecology speech” and Col. Charles Erskine Scott Wood’s transcription/embellishment of Chief Joseph’s famous “fight no more” speech.  It also makes a chapter-long case for the appointment of V. L. Parrington, Progressive Historian and founder of the “American Studies” movement, to the University of Washington English Department in 1908 as a catalyst for a Pacific Northwest Literary Tradition.

Throughout the work the authors critique, praise, and set into context all manner of thinkers, novelists, and poets within the canon – individuals such as Zola Ross, Richard Hugo, Frederick Homer Balch, Ella Higginson, Theodore Roethke, Gary Snyder, Louise Bryant, William Stafford, Abigail Scott Duniway, Nard Jones, Ken Kesey, Joaquin Miller, and the aforementioned Stevens and Davis.  Any reader looking for a better sense of the literary tradition, or just looking for a new read, could benefit from reading this engaging book.

ISBN: 978-0786445400

Available at the Washington State Library, NW 979.5 GASTIL 2010
Available as an eBook,
Not available as a talking book, or as a Braille edition.