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Alaska’s perch at the geographic corner of civilization isn’t all wilderness and reality TV. There’s a darker side too. Above the 49th parallel some of the nation’s highest rates of alcoholism, suicide, and violent crime can be found. While it can be easy to write off or even romanticize these statistics as the product of a lingering Wild West culture, talking with real Alaskans reveals a different story.
Journalist Mary Kudenov set out to find the true stories behind this “end- of-the-road” culture. Through her essays, we meet Alaskans who live outside the common adventurer narrative: a recent graduate of a court-sponsored sobriety program; a long-timer in the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center for women; a slumlord’s emancipated teenage daughter; and even a post-ram- page spree killer. Her subjects struggle with poverty and middle-class aspira- tions, education and minimum wage work, God and psychology. The result is a raw and startling collection of direct, ground-level reporting that will leave you deeply moved.
A remarkable and remarkably compassionate book...this is a book about the other Alaska reality, one of domestic violence, DUI arrests, sexual assault, suicide and always substance abuse. It’s written by someone who escaped but still feels tied to this world, even if no longer a part of it. ‘When class-passing,’ [Kudenov] writes, ‘you no longer belong where you came from or fit in where you are. It’s an essential loneliness.’
—Alaska Dispatch News, We Alaskans
Gorgeously written and deeply compassionate without shying away from the sometimes sad, sometimes inspiring, sometimes brutal and sometimes tragic humanity of its subjects, each portrait does its level best to explore, without judgment or condemnation, the oft-ignored truths of systematic class struggles, revolving-door incarceration, and the sheer unfair bad luck that colors so many of these peoples’ lives.
—The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
University of Alaska Anchorage book of the year 2019
Mary Kudenov’s nonfiction has appeared in several literary magazines, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Forth Genre, the Southampton Review, and Chautauqua. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.