In Goldberg’s novel of the past and present, a 19th-century man finds himself in modern-day Alaska.
In 2020, a mysterious man finds himself stranded in the freezing wilderness. He doesn’t know where he is or how he got there, or even his name. He’s about to be eaten by a pack of wolves when a pair of hunters save him by shooting off their guns. From a distance, the man notices that one of the hunters looks exactly like him; he hides and sneaks into the back of the hunters’ truck. It ends up in Laner, Alaska, where Travis Barlow, the look-alike, lives with his wife, Callie, and their son, Eli. Travis’ father, Stu, is the town sheriff, and Travis’ grandfather Clifford lives nearby. Travis once had a brother, Bobby, whose cause of death remains a mystery. The newcomer finds a journal in his coat, which helps his memory. His name is Wyatt Barlow, and in 1898, he left his Washington farm to seek gold in Alaska. He determines that he must be a Barlow ancestor who somehow ended up in the future; he also misses his wife and son and recalls a horrible crime he committed. At first, Wyatt scavenges around Laner for food and shelter while taking trips to Travis’ house to spy on the family: “Is this the wife and son he craves?” Eventually, Wyatt presents himself to Travis, who experiences “the awe that a doppelgänger can unearth.” The moment gives them the feeling of “eras colliding.” Travis helps Wyatt get a job, and he, too, becomes fascinated by his double. Travis has been in a rut, and Wyatt’s presence fills him with a sense of adventure, but Wyatt’s plans are less clear as he plots his own future.Over the course of this novel, Goldberg demonstrates an impressive command of his ensemble, smoothly differentiating multiple characters and detailing their arcs through time. He always keeps the plot moving forward, even when characters turn to the past, such as Stu, who can’t let go of Bobby’s death, and Wyatt, who wishes his wife and child had followed him to the present. Moments of humor brighten the story, as when Wyatt, at length, recalls a fellow traveler correctly identifying him as a gold-rusher: “What gave it away?” Wyatt asks. The man replies, “There ain’t a stench of fish or God on ya.” At other points, Goldberg’s writing is more meditative and reaches an impressive level of emotional clarity, as when Travis considers the sea: “This ocean that brings the town life, but has taken it away too. The final resting place for his brother who went out high on bad shit. He never stood a chance, not even from birth.” The small-town setting, the family dynamics, and the abnormal circumstances of Wyatt’s arrival result in a story that blends the familiar and the supernatural in a manner that call Stephen King’s work to mind. That said, Goldberg’s book possesses a flavor all its own—a distinctive mélange of the sincere and the strange.
An offbeat and gripping novel of family pain.