Monday, June 24, 2019

No Fences in Alaska - Glen Sobey

Despite myself having come of age a long time ago, I still enjoy a good coming-of age novel and usually read several of them a year.  And that is precisely what drew me to Glen Sobey’s No Fences in Alaska. This one in particular, though, appealed to me because one of its two central characters, Cooper, is a man in his sixties who is facing a steadily worsening case of early-onset Alzheimer’s.  Even better, Harper, the novel’s other main character is a sixteen-year-old girl in so much trouble at home in Texas that Grandpa Cooper, whom she has not seen in ten years, is her best and last chance at salvaging something positive from her life before it is forever too late.

Harper lives in San Antonio and Cooper lives in a remote area of Alaska. The two have not seen each other since Harper was six years old because Greg, her father, blames Cooper for everything that has ever gone wrong in his own life – and plenty has gone wrong. Unbeknownst to Harper, she’s probably a lot more like her grandfather than she is her father, and that’s a big part of the reason that her father gets along as poorly with her as he does with his old man. But Harper, perhaps because she so deeply craves the love she is not getting from her father, is herself a big part of the problem - if her father won’t show her his love, she will find it elsewhere.  Greg demands a conservative Christian lifestyle under his roof, and Harper adamantly refuses to live that way. Instead, she takes great delight in dressing provocatively, using hard drugs, and sleeping with her college-age boyfriend at every opportunity. 

Glen Sobey
Most people living Harper’s lifestyle are destined to bottom out at some point, some sooner than others.  Harper is no exception, but the girl is smart enough to grab at the only lifeline available to her when it happens, her estranged grandfather. Cooper, who has begun contemplating how his own life is destined to end in a whimper rather than a bang, jumps at the unexpected opportunity to do some good for his family before he forgets he even has one. And that’s where the rest of the story begins, because after Harper joins Cooper in Alaska they manage more than once, and in more than one sense, to save each other’s lives.

Bottom Line: No Fences in Alaska is a touching story in which the author pulls no punches. What Harper goes through in Texas is brutal, if not uncommon, and few of his characters are portrayed as being completely innocent of helping to cause what happens to this family.  As a reader, my only quibble with the novel is the quick and drastic swing in temperament that the author demands of his key characters.  I found it difficult to believe, for instance, that such an uptight family, one that failed to master one-on-one communication for a decade, could so rapidly become a family that joked openly about their various sex lives around the communal dinner table.  There’s a lot to like about No Fences in Alaska, though, so don’t let that observation scare you away. Ultimately, this is a very satisfying novel.  

Review Copy provided by Black Rose Writing

Book Number 3,410


  1. I'm interested in this one. The coming-of-age story combined with rebellion against a conservative life-style and a remote Alaskan setting sounds compelling.

    1. It's one of those books where my sympathies kept shifting from character to character as they battled. I guess that's part of the beauty of this one; no one is perfect and everyone makes a mistake or two before any real progress is made.

      I did make a correction to my review after being contacted by the author a few minutes ago. In my "Bottom Line" paragraph, I mistakenly said that the sex chatter took place when the younger kids were at the table. I was wrong; they were still in San Antonio at the time. My mistake.

  2. This does sound good. And I like that it's set in Alaska, too! :)

    1. Sobey really does well capturing the Alaska environment and using it as a key element in his story. Doesn't hurt that he has lived there for a long time; the man knows what he's talking about.