Sometimes we’re always real same-same by Mattox Roesch
Unbridled Books, Denver, 2009
Borrowed from the library.
I have to thank Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray for turning my attention to this book. Just so you know from the start, I loved it. Maybe it’s because I love Alaska, or maybe it’s because I have seen Salmon crowding up a river. I think Roesch has produced an amazing first novel, made up of stories previously published and woven together into a fine, fine thing
Seventeen year-old Cesar has ended up half way up the coast of Alaska, on the edge of the Bering Sea, in the tiny town of Unalakleet. Back in L.A. he was deep into gang life, had been involved in a terrible crime, his brother in jail for murder. His Mom decides to head back to her home, away from her absent husband, to make a new life for herself and her son.
Cesar figures it won’t be long before he has enough money to catch a plane south, but his cousin Go-Boy is convinced he will stay. It is Go-Boy who helps brings profound changes to Cesar’s life.
All along my plan in Unalakleet had been simple-pick up a job, a few paychecks, a plane ticket home. So right after I arrived I started looking around. But jobs weren’t available. I tried to get on with the company building the new jail, but I didn’t have construction experience, and the crews had already been filled, and something about building a jail seemed wrong. That left the grocery store and the fish processing plant. The grocery store only had a few employees and all the positions were taken, and I didn’t want to work ankle deep in fish guts and end each day smelling like seafood waste. So I turned to Go-Boy. And just like Go-Boy-supportive and helpful to a fault-he set me up with a job at the North River counting tower just a few week after I arrived, counting fish, making more cash than I would’ve imagined ever being possible in a place like this. From page 33.
Sometimes we’re always real same-same is the story of two young men, both of them dealing with the past, some of it ugly, and both of them gaining strength and maturity through the connection with each other and with the Unalakleet community.
Roesch doesn’t do anything fancy, his language is clean and direct, the dialogue sounding like you’re standing right there.
We both bobbed along in the water. We were buoys. I slapped at a bug on the water’s surface and G0-Boy leaned into the current, scrubbing at a stain the size of a man-hole cover.
Then he asked, “So what did you do in town last night?”
“You know there is nothing to do.”
“Can’t even try-make something up, uh?”
‘Okay,” I said. “Truth? I was looking out for your sister.”
Go laughed, said, “Man. saglu.”
“Kiana’s the last person who needs anyone looking out for her. Especially you.”
“What’s especially you?”
“Man, she raised herself until she was ten,” he said. From page 44.
And then there are those lines that just jumped out at me, and keep running through my head.
“How we love is our religion. Not what we believe.”
“Yeah, we had sex,” Kiana said. “But it wasn’t anything.”
She could spend silence better than anyone I knew.
I could go on but I would suggest you read the book. Some reviewers have found that the story jumps around. That may come from fitting bits and pieces of earlier writing together. I didn’t find it a problem at all. This novel has left a lasting impression on me and I will read Roesch’s writing when I can find it.
Mattox Roesch had a web site here. He lives in Unalakleet, there are pictures.