Novel treats coming of age in Alaska

Posted: Sunday, October 28, 2001

"Where the Mountains are Nameless" by Paul J. Trollan (Hard cover, 262 pages, lstBooks Library, Bloomington. No price listed.)

Set on the Situk and Ahrnklin rivers, "Where the Mountains are Nameless" is a tale of innocence being lost over the course of a single summer. Several different worlds intersect: traditional Tlingit, modern Tlingit, Bush and city, rich and poor.

The plot takes wing when Alaska fisherman Uncle Pat, 56, invites nephew Willie, AKA William Benedict O'Reilley II, just 17, of Chicago, to spend the summer with him. Bill, as his parents call him, is a wealthy kid whose bedroom has a 54-inch television.

Willie has a vision of his Uncle clad in Abercrombie and Fitch, leaning on a rolltop desk, mushing sled dogs and running a fancy commercial fishing operation. In fact, Uncle Pat chooses to wear unstylish wool, live in a dilapidated log cabin and drink whiskey from a pint Mason jar. He uses 20-foot skiffs to fish, picking nets in 15-foot waves on a dangerous sand bar. He's a character who quotes "Hamlet" and "The Wasteland," and feels the energy field of sockeyes arriving. His crew includes men who consider beer the "breakfast of champions."

Uncle passes gas as punctuation, uses four-letter words frequently and considers justice and law "impersonal." Off the paved roadway, in Alaska's wilderness, Uncle believes, "a man can still be free, somewhat."

Our 6-foot-3 boy Bill is a bit too perfect for his years. He's expert with a shotgun, he slam dunks like Michael Jordan, plays the 12-string guitar, has mastered karate and wears a Rolex. He's ready for a fall - several falls.

Uncle takes care of Nephew's education in how real men think and act. Various females take care of his sexual education. "Where the Mountains are Nameless" has the lubricity of "Tom Jones" without the stylish prose of "Catcher in the Rye." Nephew comes to appreciate fog, surf music, bog orchids, cold water, fresh fish, unwashed dogs, venison chili and other Alaska delights, with Uncle taking an ax to his CD player and calling him "Yuppie upwardly mobile sheltered conservative right wing Pat Buchanan programmed filthy rich (and) spoiled" along the way. Bill meets a Tlingit girl named Janette, and falls in love.

A little editing would have nixed the occasional over-writing and smoothed the minor wrinkles in the text, such as "long distant" calls, Susan "Boucher," "phantasy" for "fantasy," "cloths" for "clothes," "quess" for "guess," "ornerous" for "onerous" and "here" for "hear." Nevertheless, although rough around the edges, this is a readable first novel.

The book is available from the author, a commercial fisherman for more than 25 years, at Box 37, Yakutat 99689.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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