“Mesmerizing...harrowing in its emotional intensity, haunting in its evocation of a distant time and place.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Superb, perfect, one might even say—soaring.” —The Seattle Times
“Lyrical passages...reads like profound poetry...the most enterprising and successful portrait of a man in heat by a female writer since Joyce Carol Oates’ tumultuously orgasmic What I Lived For.” —Alan Cheuse, Chicago Tribune
“Intricately wrought...Harrison imbues her solitary silence with a stately air of self-possession.” —Maria Russo, The New York Times Book Review
“This...mesmerizing tale is dizzying in intensity; its startling story twists are borne along by prose as austere and powerful as Alaska’s icescape. The novel’s undertow of anguish will resonate with anyone who has tried to make sense of desire....Chilled to perfection.” —People
In previous books, Harrison has leaned toward the lurid -- incest, the Spanish Inquisition, Chinese foot-binding -- but here she offers a more muted tale, set in Alaska in the early nineteen-hundreds. A lonely meteorologist named Bigelow yearns for female companionship, and it comes in slippery forms: a silent Aleut who skins animals before sex; a chatty prostitute who obligingly wears a gag during intercourse; a shopkeeper's daughter who stammers so violently that she communicates only through written notes. For all the eccentricity of its characters, however, the story remains inert; Harrison seems less interested in Bigelow's torment than in her own thoughts on the unpredictability of desire.
Obsessions are Harrison's forte (The Binding Chair, etc.) and here she plumbs the mind of a young man deprived of companions, diversions and even the basic amenities of civilization who develops a passion for a woman whose very remoteness feeds his desire. In 1915, 26-year-old Bigelow Greene is sent to establish a U.S. weather station in Anchorage, a primitive settlement where the sled dogs howl all night in the 20-hour-long winter darkness. Bigelow is asingle-minded man; he first becomes obsessed with the idea of building a huge kite to measure air temperature high in the atmosphere and thus enable long-range forecasting. But he's soon smitten with a woman the locals call the Aleut. She's mysterious, enigmatic, virtually mute sex between she and Bigelow is wordless and when he discovers that she's left Anchorage, Bigelow almost goes mad with longing. Eventually, he succumbs to the lure of another woman, Miriam Getz, the daughter of the storekeeper. She, too, is mute by choice, and she proves to be a demon, the very opposite of the self-contained Aleut. Bigelow is caught in her trap. As Harrison describes the black loneliness of winter and the mosquito-infested summer days, the mood grows darker and more suspenseful, emblematic of Bigelow's desolate psyche. In perfect control of the spare narrative, Harrison writes mesmerizing, cinematically vivid scenes: Native American laborers fascinated by Caruso recordings; the gigantic kite nearly dragging Bigelow to his death off a cliff and, later, soaring into the turbulent sky of a rousing storm. Given these ominous events, and for those who know the Celtic legend of the seal wife, the ending is all the more surprising. Author tour. (May) Forecast: Harrison's excellently assimilated research about the early days of weather forecasting and about the conditions in Alaska during WWI add credibility to a novel about the inner landscape of desire. This double appeal should spark good sales. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Harrison, author of The Binding Chair, explores in The Seal Wife the mind of Bigelow, a meteorologist assigned to Anchorage, Alaska in the early 20th century. The novel studies profound loneliness through the medium of Bigelow's obsessions, both with weather and with "the Aleut," a silent, native woman with whom he has a sexual relationship. In examining Bigelow's mind, the novel takes on the feel of a psychological thriller, following his descent into near-madness during the dark of the Alaskan winter and in the wake of the Aleut's mysterious disappearance. The majority of the novel is consumed with Bigelow's pursuit of sexual relief in the absence of the nameless, native woman, and his route takes the reader to visit prostitutes, pickpockets, and female con artists. While fans of historical novels would be disappointed in the emphasis on Bigelow's psyche and not the time period and geographic location, Harrison still manages to impart a "Wild West" feel to WW I Anchorage with its burgeoning railroads and bootleg liquor. As with other Random House trade paperbacks, an excellent reader's guide concludes the book. Because of the strong sexual themes and graphic sexual content, this book is more suitable to adult collections, although senior high libraries with Harrison's other works might find this an appropriate addition to their collection. KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students and adults. 2002, Random House, 232p.,
Harrison researched 1915 Alaska and the history of weather forecasting for this book and captures the loneliness of the landscape of Bigelow's weather observatory in a railroad town where men far outnumber the women. Bigelow's dreams of a monstrous kite to help him monitor the weather patterns aloft are both comic and tragic, but, ultimately, this fails as a novel of desire. The third-person narration by Fred Stella doesn't allow the listener to enter the true intimacy of Bigelow's thoughts. The women, who are almost more symbolic than real-Aleut will not speak to him, and Miriam can only write her needs and thoughts-are potentially far more interesting than Bigelow. Not recommended.-Joyce Kessel, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo, NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
The latest strange love tale from Harrison (The Binding Chair), who heads north to Alaska this time to follow the sorrows of a young weatherman. Harrison's taste for perverse love pre-dated her famous incest-memoir (The Kiss), and it has apparently not abated much since then. Here, she offers the account of an obsessive young man who finds himself possessed by two speechless women in Anchorage during the early years of the 20th century. Bigelow, a meteorologist sent north by the Weather Bureau in 1915, is a thoughtful, shy type not well suited to the kind of frontier life that Anchorage (a large camp, basically, of some 2,000 men and very few women) then provided. His job is a simple one: to wire the climate statistics daily to Washington, DC, and provide forecasts for the benefit of the local railway workers. He has a fair amount of time on his hands, and distractions are few and far between in Anchorage. He soon meets and falls in love a silent young Aleut woman who becomes his lover for a time but eventually disappears as wordlessly as she arrived. Crestfallen and melancholic, he puts his energies into the construction of a giant kite (the largest ever made) to be used for weather readings. He also becomes obsessed with a beautiful white girl named Miriam who sings but cannot speak. Miriam and her father, a shady storekeeper, trick Bigelow into proposing marriage to her, but he is still haunted by his Aleut girl. There is a good deal of grief and plenty of heavy prose ("Bigelow realizes that he's been dead for the past year. Dead ever since the Aleut disappeared. . . ."), but everything gets patched up in good time for Bigelow to fly his kite with the Aleut girl by his side in the end. Leaden, pretentious, and dull: a Harlequin romance in writing-program prose.