by Dana Stabenow

Putnam: 1997
256 pp., $21.95
ISBN: 0-399-14250-9

Review by Harriet Klausner

It is Breakup in Alaska when the snow melts and the people emerge from the long dark winter of hibernating in their homes. The natives gleefully visit friends and neighbors, replenish supplies, and take care of tribal business. This year, Breakup is even more difficult than usual for homesteader Kate Shugak. She has to deal with hungry bears, a plane engine landing on her roof, and mediating the various feuds that sometimes escalate into violence. Worse than all that combined is that her hormones are aching and she desperately wants to visit her lover in Anchorage.

No matter how hard Kate distances herself from tribal politics, no one allows her to forget that she is heir to her grandfather's legacy. The gift (or curse depending on one's perspective) of being the recognized clan leader is one that Kate would prefer to reject. However, she is unable to desert her people by abrogating her responsibility especially when her presence helps her fellow villagers. For instance, Kate decides how to invest tribal funds in a clinic and determines if a bear attack was actually a premeditated murder. Whatever the tribal requirement might be, Kate, guided by her deceased grandmother's spirit, tends to her people's need.

The female protagonist is clearly the star of Breakup, a work that has plenty of action, but is more of a character study than a typical murder mystery. The magic and the power of the Alaskan environment are brought vividly alive through the powerful word processor of Dana Stabenow. She successfully allows readers a glimpse into the psychological and sociological mindset of the native Alaskan resident, who because of living in a harsh climate has different social survival mechanisms than those found in the lower 48. The force of this novel transcends genre as the protagonist trie unsuccessfully to rejects the power that her community increasingly bestows upon her. For readers interested in the last American frontier, this book is a necessity.

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