Tuesday, August 28, 2012

book review: Correcting the Landscape by Marjorie Kowalski Cole

The backstory: Correcting the Landscape won the Bellwether Prize in 2004.

The basics: In Fairbanks, Alaska, Gus runs a newspaper struggling financially, both for the familiar reasons and because of the local advertisers, who increasingly take issue with the paper's political views and are pulling their financial support.

My thoughts: I majored in journalism in college, and I have a fascination with stories about journalists. I'm also fascinated by life in Alaska, so when I discovered this novel on my quest to read all of the Bellwether Prize winners, I was looking forward to it. Correcting the Landscape is a realistic, and depressing, look at the small town newspaper industry, but it's emphasis is really on telling the story of Gus, whose personal turmoil drifts into work, just as his professional turmoil is deeply personal. As a character, I admit I never felt connected to Gus, but Kowalski Cole's writing was so beautiful, I didn't care.

The themes of social justice in this novel are haunting. While it's a story of one man in one Alaska town, there is a universality in its arguments about the importance of news in our society:
"These three kids of his, their arrival over the years had kept pace with an increasing conservatism on his and Mary’s part. World too painful to present to his children, so you just pretend it’s different? Pretend these painful, ugly things don’t exist?"
Through the writing, grim events, and Alaska setting (the author was Alaskan), there's a chill to this novel, but  there's also a lingering hope, for both Gus as an individual and for the newspaper itself.

Favorite passage:  "A sense of community made me look up from my pages in anticipation of future struggles."

The verdict: Correcting the Landscape is a fascinating glimpse into Alaska and the newspaper industry. I enjoyed the larger themes more than the internal struggles of Gus, but the strength of this novel is in Kowalski Cole's prose.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 240 pages
Publication date: January 3, 2006
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Correcting the Landscape from the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

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  1. Oh, I am totally a sucker for journalism books -- and I'm glad this is a novel as you know I'm so iffy on memoirs. Will have to get this one -- I'm not that curious about life in Alaska, per se, but love the focus on that unusual locale.

    1. Audra, it's not a perfect novel, but I really enjoyed this slim read. I think you'd like it!

  2. I also love books set in Alaska, and one of the better ones that I have read has been Tide, Feather, Snow. If you haven't tried that one yet, I would totally recommend it to you! This review was excellent. You really captured the feeling of desperation running through the book.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation of Tide, Feather, Snow. I'm adding it to my list!

  3. I don't know whether a journalism book would particularly grab me, but the themes of social justice sound gripping. Excellent review!

    1. Stephanie, I'm a huge fan of social justice in fiction, and it has led me to read all of the Bellweather Prize novels.

  4. This is on my reading list for the same reasons it was on yours: now I'm looking forward to it even more. Thanks!


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