Across the Inlet by Gail Summers is a novel for today. As baby boomers age to the point where they must address the care of their elderly and ill parents, this novel shines an unapologetically realistic light on family dynamics and end-of-life issues. Admittedly, the family in the novel is more dysfunctional than most, but their interactions show the range of emotional responses and reactions that we all might experience. The characters drive the novel, and the ensemble is well developed and believable.
I especially like the way the author reveals the individuals’ backgrounds as the novel wears on, rather than dumping it all in the first few chapters. It’s a sophisticated way to deal with the varying motives and past experiences, shifting loyalties and agonizing separations. And it demonstrates how we can at the same time both love and hate our family members. Also impressive is the author’s choice to use first person point of view and present tense. It places the reader squarely in the middle of the drama and gives a sense of immediacy and intimacy that allows readers to share the characters’ emotions. The author used dialogue and email correspondence as well as first person observations of the narrator to develop and reveal the other characters, so I never felt that the narrator violated the mandate that she only share the things she could know.
The novel is organized chronologically, dating each entry as the narrator’s stepfather progresses slowly from life to death. The use of flashback, sometimes sudden and startling, mimics the way our minds cannot easily focus on the present when the present is painful and difficult. I had a hard time putting this book down because I was never sure where the next page would take me. I also found the choice of setting to be significant. The backdrop of the beauty of Alaska’s natural features contrasted sharply with the psychological angst of the characters, showing that we can appreciate beauty even when we are in pain and that nature can bring respite in times of despair. Although I have yet to travel to our 49th state, this novel put Alaska higher on my list of places to go.
Review by Betsy Beard (July 2019)
Anger is easier than forgiveness—but at what cost? There’s much Abby has tried to forget in her life, including her biological father who, besides crueler things, labeled her a “dumbass girl.” Her stepdad, Bill, on the other hand, Abby doesn’t ever want to forget. So when her sister Aurora informs her that he only has days to live, Abby hops on a plane to Alaska. But Aurora lied. While Bill is dying, his is a lingering death, the wearisome kind marked by bedsores and soiled sheets. As days turn into weeks, Abby discovers that, among other things, Aurora has been stealing money from their parents, and her anger begins to harden into hatred. Although Abby’s central desire is to protect Bill from needless suffering, the discord between her and her sisters threatens to destroy the peace she longs to offer him. Thus begins the The Alyeska Saga and the beginning of a transformative journey set in the mysterious land across the inlet of Cook Inlet, Alaska.
ISBN/ASIN: ASIN: B00TKTE6UM (Kindle) ISBN-10: 1505206448 ISBN-13: 978-1505206449 (soft cover)
Book Format(s): Soft cover
Review Genre: Fiction—Literary Fiction
Number of Pages: 264