Family means everything to widowed Alaskan fisherman Ray Bancroft, raising his granddaughter while battling storms, invasive species, and lawsuit happy tourists. To navigate, and to catch enough crab to feed her college fund, Ray seeks help from a multitude of gods and goddessesnot to mention ad-libbed rituals performed at sea by his half-Tlingit best friend. But kitchen counter statues and otter bone ceremonies aren’t enough when his estranged daughter returns from prison, swearing she’s clean and sober. Her search for a safe harbor threatens everything Ray holds sacred. Set against a backdrop of ice and mud and loss, this debut novel explores the unpredictable fissures of memory, and how families can break apart, even in the midst of healing.
|Publisher:||Forest Avenue Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Dan Berne grew up in a working-class family in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he worked in his way through college, with jobs in drugstores, warehouses, U-bolt factories, and cement plants. He has been an active member of Karen Karbo's select writing workshop for ten years. Dan owns a market strategy consultancy and is currently writing a book on market transformation. He lives with his wife Aliza in Portland, Oregon. The Gods of Second Chances is his debut novel. More can be found at his website danberne.com.
Reid Psaltis , a native of the Pacific Northwest, works as a freelance illustrator while also writing and drawing his own comics. His work has been featured on Top Shelf 2.0, Study Group Comics, Trip City, Scout Books’ Good Ink Series, among others.
Read an Excerpt
Beginning of Chapter 1
Mud and rain invaded my dreams after Donna’s death. In southeast Alaska, where I’ve lived for half my life, we have precipitation 310 days out of the year. All those nights with the skittle-skattle of wet pellets against the windows, you’d think that rain would have formed the base molecules of my sleep a long time ago. And the mud. It’s everywhere up here, omnipresent and brutal.
Until my wife died, my dreams were somehow waterproofed, sealed against the elements. Maybe it was feeling her back scrunched against my chest as we lay in bed, her leg draped over my thigh. My arm around her waist, breathing in the scent of her skin, listening to her breathe. Twelve years she’s been gone, and I seldom sleep without the rain beating on the walls of my subconscious, the sludge seeping up through the decks of my memory.
Standing on the aft deck of my crabbing boat, I read the letter from my daughter for the third time. She wants to come home. Jenny, who together with the rain and the mud, murdered my wife.
“Ray!” Sitka’s voice hollers from the bow of the boat.
Last year, on her eleventh birthday, she decided to call me by my first name. Fine by me. I was only thirty-eight when Sitka was borntoo young to be a grandfather. During the summer and on the weekends, if the weather isn’t too bad, she goes out on the boat with me and Felix.
The two of them are on the foredeck, emptying the last of the thirty-inch octagonal shrimp pots. I can bring Sitka along with us when we go shrimping because the pots are small and we can manage with just the three of us. Different story with crabbing, though. Too dangerous for a kid her age, with the huge pots and the wintry-tough weather conditions. Not that we couldn’t use an extra hand. Crabbing brings in a lot more money, and the gods know we could use that, too. I had to get the boat’s engine overhauled up in Ketchikan last March, something I’m still paying off.
“Ray!” Sitka shouts again. “You’d better come here!”
I stuff the letter from her mom into its envelope and then hide it in my pocket before making my way forward. Sitka stands beside one of the pots, her arms folded. Her sandy hair, tied in a ponytail, sticks out the back of her baseball cap. She’s thin, but tall for her age. Genes from her good-for-nothing-but-fish-bait father.
“You’re not going to like what’s in here,” she says.
“Not a bit.” Felix is half-Tlingit, half-Russian. Most people can’t place the clicking sound his voice has, and assume that he’s from Norway or Sweden.
The sun glints off the metal bars of the pot, making me squint. Sitka plunges her rubber-gloved arm into the pile of shrimp. They fidget and tumble over each other as she pushes them from side to side. When she wriggles her arm free, she holds up a small brown crab. Its shell is no more than four inches across. The frantic front claws are covered with a soft, tan bristle. They remind me of the mink muff Geraldine Chaplin wore in Dr. Zhivago.
“That’s all we need out here,” I say. “Chinese mitten crabs.”
They came over from China like the Mongol Horde. They’re usually close to shore and spend their time being little bulldozers, burrowing into the muddy banks of streams and marsh channels. They keep digging and digging until the whole river bank collapses. They get into everything: pipes, drains, traps, not to mention our nets. The little bastards love to steal bait from fishing lines and pots. They’re bottom feeders to boot. Eat them and you’re getting a meal of bio-toxic soup.
“Why ain’t they up in the estuary?” Felix says, lifting up his Greek fisherman’s cap. He has been my business partner and best friend for the past twenty years, and he knows as well as I do that mitten crabs are already established all around Blind Slough. Where they should have stayed. “If this keeps up, they’re going to be all over our fishing spots.”
“There’s at least another three in there.” Sitka pitches the crab in her hand overboard. “Fuck you,” she shouts, as it spins head over claw into the water.
The boat is the one place she’s allowed to swear. I don’t like it in the house and her teachers tell me they hold it down in the classroom, but out here sometimes it just seems to fit. And I’d be hard-pressed to set a good example myself.
“Hang on, let’s not throw them overboard,” I tell her. “These might be females getting ready to overwinter. If that’s true, they’re probably carrying eggs. We’ll separate them out and drop them off at Fish and Game. See what they can learn.”
We need this crabbing season to be a good one. We tapped out early with the summer Dungeness back in August. They were running low on account of the warmer ocean currents, and the Fish and Game department shut the season down three weeks early. The sea lions only made things worse, munching on the Dungeness like they were snack packs. I wish I had a dollar for every time I wanted to take my rifle and shoot one of those puppy-faced scavengers.
Seals are just as bad. F&G caught Terry Meeks last month when he shot up a half dozen of them. Fined him $10,000, suspended his crabbing license for six months. Meeks didn’t think they’d nab him because he was doing his herd thinning at two in the morning. Idiot. Didn’t he realize that would be the perfect time for patrol boats to hone in on him? Now he’s pretty well screwed for the rest of the year.
“Not much we can do about Chinese mitten crabs,” I say. “Besides reporting them.”
“Wait a minute, wait right here, the both of you.” Felix goes into the pilothouse. We can hear him banging open drawers.
Sitka peers in his direction, as if she can see through the bulkhead. “What’s he up to?”
I shrug, although I have a general notion of what he might be looking for. Sitka’s hazel-green eyes remind me of her grandmother’s, set wide near the nose and tapering down to a slit. Her nose that hooks up slightly It’s big! It’s ugly! I hate it! and her mouth that turns down at the corner, she gets from me and her mother.
Felix is back on deck, holding a small glass jar. He unscrews the lid and sniffs at the contents. “This should still be good.”
“What is that?” Sitka’s nostrils flare at the musky scent.
Felix pulls a light brown root out of the jar. “Jqa’tuJ tcin naku.” He unsheathes the boning knife that he keeps on his belt and uses it to slice off a small chunk. “The medicine that makes things humble.”
Sitka rolls her eyes. “And this is supposed to protect us from the mitten crabs?”
“Hey,” I tell her, “a little respect for the maritime beliefs of your elders, young lady.”
I can see that she’s ready to make another wisecrack, but she stops herself. She knows that Felix and I take these things seriously. There’s too little control one has over life, especially out at sea. So I’m with Felixget all the help you can get, whether it’s from saints, Hindu gods, Tlingit spirits, or rituals handed down from sailor to sailor since the beginning of time.
Felix chews on the root, then spits the brown gunk into the shrimp bucket, and onto the deck, and for good measure, he walks over to the port rail and lets some fly into the cove. “That’ll teach those buggers some manners.”