Saturday, April 09, 2011

RAVEN STOLE THE MOON by Garth Stein (1998) HarperCollins, 441 pages

I came to Garth Stein through his most recent novel THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN, featuring Enzo, a canine protagonist with an obsession for race car driving and the uncanny ability to scent cancer. How I loved that book and wished that what transpires in it could possibly be true.

His earlier novel RAVEN STOLE THE MOON proves to me that Stein is not a one hit wonder. He's got storytelling legs. And, like literary thriller wunderkind Kate Atkinson, each book is different from the last, yet equally accomplished and satisfying.

On the anniversary of her young son's death, Jenna Rosen abandons her materially comfortable Seattle life by skipping out on a networking party she'd been barely tolerating with her ambitious husband Robert. She's tired of his tired jokes and decides on a whim to get in his car and drive until she can clear her head. That drive takes her to the ferry docks where she offers to buy a young couple a ticket to Skagway because they've lost one of theirs. Through this kindness of strangers gesture, Jenna finds herself also drawn to a northern journey back to Wrangell where her son Bobby disappeared two years previous. And, the young couple offer her a gift of a handmade necklace featuring an Indian spirit called a kushtaka. Jenna is both touched by their gift and intrigued by its enigmatic symbolism.

A mother's grief is fierce. Once Jenna returns to the site of her only child's death, she is determined to find a way to assuage his restless spirit. With the help of local strangers in the Alaskan wilderness, Jenna tries to sift through the terrifying beliefs of her ancestors, the Tlingit. What she must face is bone-chilling and Stein will have you believing that each heart-thumping turn is the genuine article. By mixing Jenna's emotions with her Native cultural inheritance, Stein challenges the power of grief to set things right.

RAVEN STOLE THE MOON is an engrossing tale about loss and redemption and the work essential to turn grief into something more lustrous.

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