A copy of "Nobody Gets Out Alive" stands on a desk inside The Peninsula Clarion's offices on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Off the Shelf: Struggles on the Last Frontier

A web of characters struggle against Alaska in a new collection of short stories from author Leigh Newman, who grew up partially in Anchorage.

Across eight discrete stories, she takes readers along the journeys of multiple women at different points in their lifetimes. They’re reclined in the back of a canoe on a father-daughter float trip during a “classic Alaskan summer,” and skiing with a couple in turmoil to a remote cabin in winter all in the same hundred pages.

Newman manages to translate onto the page Alaska’s splendor, but also some of the state’s grittier elements. One story follows a backdoor fortune teller crashing in a guest house, another two sisters navigating the Anchorage People Mover system.

The collection of works is worth the read if for nothing else than the third story, titled “Alcan, an Oral History,” which chronicles a dramatic voyage from the Lower 48 to Alaska from different perspectives. At once carefully paced and beautifully written, the piece is short but brimming with tension that leaves you wanting more.

Just as the book’s home base of Anchorage unites the stories together, so does a sense of struggle. Whether that struggle is against the environment, against themselves or against others, Newman applies a uniquely Alaska lens to supremely human characters.

“Your average happy person didn’t last in Alaska,” Newman writes in one chapter. “It was too much work not to die all the time.”

“Nobody Gets Out Alive” reads like, first and foremost, a love letter to Anchorage: it’s what the neighbors surrounding Newman’s Diamond Lake have in common. Each story is jampacked with Alaskana references that will ring familiar to any reader based in the Last Frontier, but it’s undoubtedly the hyperlocal Anchorage references that underscore Newman’s intimate knowledge of the area.

The rich collection of tales is rounded out with an ill-fated love story set in 1914 at the dawn of contemporary Anchorage. Much as the book’s characters are tangentially related through circumstance, Newman takes readers back to the start of Anchorage as the hub for the Alaska Railroad and as home to her own cohort of fictional characters.

Leigh Newman is the editor-in-chief of Zibby Books and has also published a memoir about growing up in Alaska called “Still Points North.” “Nobody Gets Out Alive” was published in 2022 by Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

Disclaimer: Reporter Ashlyn O’Hara is newly an ambassador with Zibby Books, of which author Leigh Newman is editor-in-chief. O’Hara was not compensated for this review and purchased “Nobody Gets Out Alive” out of pocket.

Off the Shelf is a bimonthly literature column written by the staff of The Peninsula Clarion that features reviews and recommendations of books and other texts through a contemporary lens.

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