Far Alaska, a new novel by Mason Smith
Update: Mason Smith’s novel Far Alaska was chosen this year as the winner for Best in Fiction by the Adirondack Center for Writing. More on this year’s awards
We know the cliches: “Home is where the heart is;” “Home is where when you knock at the door, they have to let you in;” “Home is a haven in a heartless world;” and so on. These platitudes might express a deep truth for some of us, but, for many, the promise of a healthy home has never been fulfilled. For good or for bad, however, who we are is formed largely by the intimacies of family life. This leads us to the question that animates Mason Smith’s new novel, Far Alaska: What happens to our identity when we break from the comforts, the confines, even the horrors of home and seek to forge a new place for ourselves?
The journey away from home undertaken by the protagonists in Far Alaska involves a lesson in Canadian geography, sexual discovery, and transformative self-discovery on a nearly daily basis. This makes for an exciting and surprising novel on many levels.
Mason Smith is our ablest chronicler of North Country Life – life lived between Canton and Plattsburgh, Paul Smiths and Blue Mountain Lake – working in fiction today. But the topographical features of this landscape, so important to us all, are less significant in Smith’s new novel than its morality and social structure. It is these aspects of our region that Clarence and Hesther seek to escape. Clarence is a seventy something woodsman, who has lived his entire life laboring as a teamster – a lumberjack whose main tools of the trade are his horses – and handyman. He is regarded as something of a child by his sisters, an oddity among the people of his town, and as easily exploited by those who employ him. Hesther is a large, middle-aged woman who has known great loneliness in her life; but she commands an array of talents, physical and intellectual that becomes increasingly visible as she and Clarence make their sudden break from the region to make a new life in Alaska. That new life, however, begins as soon as they cross over into Canada.
Far Alaska is a novel where the psychological and philosophical journey competes with the physical task of driving through Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, the Yukon and toward the goal of complete escape dictated by law, habit and the expectations of others. Fans of Mason Smith’s earlier novels will be happy to find themselves back in the rhythms of his masterly prose and dialogue. If you have not yet read a Mason smith novel, then Far Alaska is a superb place to begin your own journey of discovering this gifted local author.