Shelter in Place

The narrator of Alexander Maksik's third novel, Shelter in Place (after A Marker to Measure Drift), Joe March, is a brooding, bar-hopping, lackluster student at Santa Monica Community College. His self-disciplined, blue-collar father calls him home to Seattle after his mother is sentenced to life in prison for her fatal bludgeoning of a stranger, whom she saw beating his wife in a strip mall parking lot.

On the drive north, Joe stops for a few days at a cheap motel in Cannon Beach, Ore., where he meets the wild, fearless bartender Tess and falls ass over teakettle in love. Joe is in the early grip of a bipolar disorder, and Tess is the antidote. The lovers continue north to White Pine, the small prison town outside Seattle, where they visit Joe's mom, who instills in Tess a feminist righteousness. Joe and Tess happily work together tending bar at a local joint, between trips to the city to hear the Seattle sound--especially Nirvana, because "Cobain was our crown prince, our John Lennon, and he was everywhere."

Shelter in Place is both a love story and the sensitive portrayal of Joe's reconciliation with his calm and steady father. Underneath it all, however, is Maksik's portrait of Joe, his constant fear of his disorder's disabling side and his mistrust of its euphoric side: "I go along and then there is horror. I go along and then there is wonder." Maksik's Joe March is a man for today as much as Ishmael and Stephen were for Melville's and Joyce's days. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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