"Rukeyser weaves a dreamlike spell—'Twin Peaks’ by way of ‘Northern Exposure.’" —LA Times
"Fantastic.” —The New York Times
Mira is a loner, a drop out, an obsessive fascinated by the concept of sleaze. She wants two things: to move to Alaska and find the tattooed fisherman that’s the object of her desire. Her single-mindedness takes her to the remote Kodiak Archipelago, where she finds work at a homestead-turned-tourist-lodge offering a carousel of meticulously scripted Alaskan experiences.
But the lodge is failing and, as life on Lavender Island becomes increasingly claustrophobic and strange, Mira’s plans for her future become more elaborate and perverse.
Part meditation on unhinged longing, part biting commentary on eco-tourism and the mythology of the American West, and part yearning portrayal of people at the end of their tether, The Seaplane on Final Approach is wholly original, “a perfect blend of deep, dark humor, sadness, and (of course), adolescent horniness (Literary Hub).”
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The name Lavender Island Wilderness Lodge was honest, for the most part. The nearest neighbors were eight nautical miles away, the nearest Native village twenty nautical miles, the nearest town with a streetlight fifty. It was a lodge. It was on an island—one without roads, electricity, or any power other than that supplied by the generator. The staff wasn’t allowed to use the satellite phone, except in the case of emergencies. But there was no lavender in Alaska; what grew best on the slopes of Lavender Island was fireweed.
I appreciated this lie. Lavender was a cultivated flower, in the way that gloves and small spoons were cultivated. Lavender Island sounded like a place that understood, even as it hunched in the middle of nowhere, that nature was a bear at the end of the garden.
The owner, Maureen Jenkins, had a practiced laugh and a practiced jauntiness: she insisted on being called “Maureen.” Her hands, as she untied the mooring lines, coiled the rope, and steered the boat from the harbor, were clever. I believed that under her watchful eye I would be molded into a truly excellent baker.
Because that was going to be my job, Maureen explained. I was to be something of a domestic jack-of-all-trades, but she’d really hired me because of my enthusiasm when it came to baking. She told me that I would have a few definite tasks: cookies were essential for packed lunches, because people crave sugar at high latitudes. Pie was essential for dessert, because people needed to taste those fresh Alaskan berries. And bread! We needed fresh bread with fresh salmon.
She encouraged me to do fun things in my off-hours, like walk down the beach and hunt octopuses by luring them from their holes with syringes full of bleach. But life on a homestead was, Maureen reminded me, her eyes never leaving the flat water of the sea lane, more work than play. The guests needed continual attention.
It took the better part of four hours to navigate out from the town of Kodiak to Lavender Island. The journey was longer when the weather was inclement. But there was really no such thing as bad weather in Alaska, said Maureen, only bad clothing. However, it was true that days like today, with the water reflecting a high, starched sky, were the very best. Maureen turned from the wheel, pointing out a flotilla of sea otters, a whale breaching, a chartreuse green slope scattered with blooming lupine.
“It’s a bluebird day, Mira,” she said. “Perfect welcome weather for you.”
Maureen, knee steadying the wheel, filled a thermos lid with coffee and handed it to me. When the Wilderness Lodge guests came in for breakfast, she explained, my job was to keep the coffeepot full, and to serve up the platters of pancakes and the bowls of eggs. In the evening, I’d fill the wineglasses and make sure dessert was plated even before the dinner was over. I would wear black-and-white-striped chef’s pants. I would be quiet and bustling.
When I introduced the meals, Maureen said, I should tell the guests, “Tonight Chef has prepared for you . . . ,” and then, whenever possible, throw in the word “Alaskan.” It was impossible to overuse the adjective. The fish were Alaskan. The nettles in the salad grew native on Kodiak, Alaska’s own Emerald Isle. We grew rhubarb in our Alaskan garden.
There were two girls jumping and waving on the beach of Lavender Island Wilderness Lodge. Maureen smiled as she anchored and tied up to a smaller aluminum skiff. The girls were the size of wedding cake toppers at this distance, with the same pleasant blurred faces.
“Polly and Erin,” said Maureen. “I think you’ll all hit it off—you all just graduated high school, and you all have the same sparkle.” I hadn’t graduated. I had flunked out, but I didn’t correct Maureen.
Polly and Erin’s voices rose up, reflecting cleanly across the water. “Welcome to Lavender Island,” they sang, to the tune of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” “Welcome to Lavender Island, welcome to Lavender Island,” and there they dissolved. They had practiced the first part of their welcome, but not the second. They couldn’t say “And so say all of us,” because there were only two of them. It was true that somewhere, in the gray clapboard buildings nestled in the alders, there were two more.
I helped Maureen unpack into the aluminum skiff and watched as she motored to shore. It was only a few hundred yards, but it was enough to hear the roar of the skiff recede and echo back to me from the mountain. As the motor on the skiff cut out, there was the sound of laughter. The word “Hi!” bobbled out to me.
In the brambles high above the Wilderness Lodge, I saw the haunches and triangular head of a bear. It was a surprisingly jolly sight: piggy snout, round ears, the movement of a seal in an aquarium. The only unsettling thing about the bear was its fur, which was the pale color of dog shit.
Then Polly and Maureen were back in the skiff, coming toward me. Polly smiled, with her two dimples. “Mira! You’re here!” she said, and I said, “I’m here!” When I looked back at the hillside, the bear was gone.
“I saw a bear,” I told Maureen.
“The Kodiak Archipelago is famous for its bears,” she said. “It’s the real-deal wilderness out here, the kind of place that really molds you.”
On the beach, Erin took me right into a tight hug. She was covered in auburn freckles and wore an oversized Les Misérables t-shirt. Polly was terribly pretty. Her cheeks seemed to be so full of cheek that they shone. She was small, with small feet. Erin’s large feet were pointed outward, and she had a scarecrow grace.
I went to grab my duffel, but Erin wouldn’t hear of it. I had just arrived, she could take it. She hoisted it and placed a box on top of it. There was glee in her movements; she was happy to exert.
Maureen smiled, and Polly and I took up the lead.
“She’s like that,” said Polly. “She’s super-strong. And you packed light!”
“Did you know her before?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” said Polly. “We’ve known each other since sixth grade.”