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The public image of Alaska for those who live elsewhere tends to be bound up with the outdoors. But while that’s not necessarily false, it’s far from a complete picture. This collection of stories shows us what we’re missing. Set in Alaska’s cities and suburbs, homes and back roads, cars and kitchens and bedrooms, it offers not only tales of adventure, but quietly powerful psychological dramas, private triumphs and failures of personal life played out in an extraordinary place.
Jean Anderson delicately balances the lyrical and the experimental to tell the stories of hardworking Alaskans—teachers, laborers, dental hygienists, artists—worrying over fairness and equity and meaning, falling in and out of love, and pondering elusive, long-dreamed-of goals. Powered by a rich empathy, Human Being Songs shows us life in Alaska as it’s actually lived today—its successes, failures, and moments of transcendent beauty.
In all situations, Anderson's characters love and live fully, searching for truth, while her narrators invite us into protagonists' minds and experiences as female Northerners making stories, singing songs of their preoccupations.
—Gabrielle Raffuse, Alaska Women Speak
Human Being Songs speaks of themes embraced by many other books (fiction and non-fiction) set in Alaska embrace: alcoholism, driving on ice, neglected children, Native American children living in poverty, the homeless, epidemics and the challenges of bad weather that rattles the bones while it rattles the windows dripping with condensation. But it deviates from the usual form of those themes, tales of wolves and "surviving" in the wilderness, to limn the lives of older women--the women "of a certain age" who are usually shadow characters if they are mentioned at all.
Bookish (like so many writers) and also a teacher, Anderson often works into her stories classic quotations or mentions of the joys and challenges of educating. She is skilled at taking an unusual jumping off point--such as answers (and questions) that don't fit on an official census form--and mining it for all it's worth. Her deft touch with irony sings out, page after page.
—Ann Chandonnet, author of Write Quick: The Life of a Woman in Letters, 1835-1865 and other books.
Jean Anderson is the author of In Extremis and Other Alaskan Stories and coeditor of Inroads, an anthology of regional Alaska fiction.