July 06, 1987 12:00 PM

by Laurie Alberts

There is a bleak fascination about this first novel that brings to mind The Iceman Cometh. When the young characters look around for guidance—or at least for a reasonably attractive example—they find only pipe dreams and scarring memories. The book’s protagonist, Allie, is 20 and has been trying to flee her psychologically and physically abusive parents in a small town near Boston. She manages the separation in mileage terms, ending up in a small Alaskan fishing town, but her conflicting desires to love her mother and father and to be free of them hang over her. Everything she does seems doomed, from trying to get a job as a hand on a fishing boat to falling in love with a young Indian man, Sonny, whose own alcoholic mother has him in a kind of thrall too. While Allie falls in and out of jobs and beds, the novel and her life turn on her affair with Sonny. The story’s real climax comes when she bullies him into living up to his idle boast that he will go to Denver to find a new life. Alberts, a New York writer, could have used a tougher editor. The novel, at nearly 340 pages, is 50 pages too long, and her language occasionally seems clumsy: At one point Allie finds her “head aching from the ping ping ping of the pinball machine being raped by a teenager.” Allie is, however, a strangely sympathetic character, who still believes in hope in the abstract, without knowing what she wants. When she tries fishing for salmon on her own, in a tiny boat, she finds herself alone on the ocean and frightened, but thinks, “No, she wasn’t afraid of drowning, she was afraid she wouldn’t care.” Her blind determination, set amidst the cycles of the fishing seasons and the inevitability of the tide, is one of those human qualities that is so thoughtless it can hardly be admired. But it can be marveled at and puzzled over, which is what Alberts seems to be doing, often with provocative results. (Houghton Mifflin, $17.95)

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