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When she was a toddler, Jessica Goodfellow’s twenty-two-year-old uncle, along with six other climbers from the 1967 Wilcox Expedition to Denali, was lost in an unprecedented ten-day storm that blasted winds of up to three hundred miles per hour. Just as North America’s highest peak is so massive that it has its own distinct weather system—changeable and perilous, subject to sudden whiteout conditions—a family whose loved one is irretrievably lost has a grief so blinding and vast that it also creates its own capricious internal weather, one that lasts for generations. Whiteout is Goodfellow’s account of growing up in this unnavigable and often unspoken-of climate of bereavement.
Although her poems begin with a missing body, they are not an elegy. Instead, Goodfellow struggles with the absence of cultural ritual for the uncontainable loss of a loved one whose body is never recovered and whose final story is unknowable. There is no solace here, no possible reconciliation. Instead, Whiteout is a defiant gaze into a storm that engulfs both the wildness of Alaska and of familial mourning.
Jessica Goodfellow was the 2016 writer-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve. She is the author of Mendeleev’s Mandala, The Insomniac’s Weather Report, and A Pilgrim’s Guide to Chaos in the Heartland. Her work has been broadcast on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac and on A Way with Words. She lives in Japan.
"A study of inter-generational trauma, of how the pain that afflicts parents and grandparents
can be handed down to children who did not experience it directly. It's deeply moving."
—Alaska Dispatch News, We Alaskans
"Whiteout is a book that you need to read. While it focuses on the loss of Goodfellow’s uncle,
it also explores the way we mourn for the people who we have lost. Even if you can’t
relate to Goodfellow’s exact situation, this book will still hit home."
"Reading Whiteout is like going through an emotional winter storm: tragedy, love, repression, and even
depression all have a spotlight in this collection."
"Goodfellow expresses a nuanced grief, missing someone you barely know but whose absence
torques the people around you, affecting how they interact with the world but also
you. . . . Goodfellow’s poems are full of text where everyword carries weight, where
the words used are so strong they make articles and pronouns pale next to them."
—Vary the Line