The bumpy road to manhood is the focus of two books that I looked at this week. One is a collection of essays about coming of age in Bellingham in the 1970s. The other is an autobiographical novel about life as the adolescent son of immigrant parents in America.
Although Bellingham-born Mitch Evich has long lived on the East Coast, his Whatcom County roots are the focus of the essays in "A Geography of Peril." Evich's male ancestors made their living in the extractive industries of logging and fishing, but Evich also shares the voice of his maternal grandmother, whose letters to her husband, off working in a logging camp during the Great Depression, careen wildly between honeyed enticements and vinegary accusations.
As a young man, Evich himself spent several seasons aboard a fishing boat, chasing after the next big catch. In forthright prose, he describes life aboard his dad's underperforming purse seiner in Puget Sound in the years just after the Boldt decision. A few summers later he worked onboard fishing boats that headed up to Alaska for the summer.
This was a job fraught with the ever-present anxiety of working in an unforgiving environment that, as Evich describes it, was "capable of transforming minor errors in judgment into catastrophes."
There are also pages devoted to the death-defying hijinks of his high school years, and a blow-by-blow recollection of Evich's senior year on the football team when the crowning glory was being given a funky kamikaze kid t-shirt.
"A Geography of Peril" is rough in a few spots, but it does capture an era, and marks the ways in which traits, and sometimes even wisdom, are passed from one generation to the next.
"Triplines" is also about legacies, but Leonard Chang, today a novelist and screenwriter living in Los Angeles, chronicles an unhappier adolescence.
This autobiographical novel is about Yul and Umee Chang, who had emigrated separately from South Korea, and their family. When they first met in New York they perhaps thought that marrying one another would allay their loneliness for home.
But after three children and years of money woes and cultural alienation, Yul had become a violent alcoholic and the marriage was disintegrating.
Lenny's big brother Ed moved out of the house as soon as he graduated from high school, leaving Lenny and his younger sister Mira to figure how to steer clear of their dad's increasingly erratic behavior while their mother gathered the courage and resources to file for divorce.
In spare scenes charged with tension, Chang recalls the minefields of his youth - domestic violence, ethnic and economic strife and inequitable educational opportunities.
He also sketches the idiosyncratic mix of people and places, including an illegal marijuana patch, where he found a semblance of safe haven.
"Triplines" is the fourth book of Chang's to be published by Black Heron Press, the Mill Creek publisher that has been steadily turning out audacious and high caliber literary fiction for 30 years.
THIS WEEK'S BOOKS
"A Geography of Peril," by Mitch Evich
"Triplines," by Leonard Chang
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at email@example.com.