Thomas Burns, 52, is trying to get to the remote village of Kolvik, Alaska, north of the Arctic Circle. He is on a personal mission—to see the place where his son died. It is Burns’ first trip to Alaska and it stuns him. After ten years of being essentially dormant, he finds himself coming to life in the extreme place.
He is a lawyer from Greenwich, Connecticut, a recovering alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink for ten years and who conducts his life carefully and “by force of will.” This trip is the first “non-essential” thing he’s done in that time.
The first person he meets upon arriving in the large village of Kotsebue is Blazo, 60, a weathered Inuit, who drinks all the time. Blazo cannot talk because years ago he drank some blazo, a heating fuel. Burns stays with his son’s ex-wife Julie, 30, who is a nurse in the hospital. He finds it difficult to get out of Kotsebue, a town with the largest area in the Arctic Circle. Kolvik is sixty miles away. The weather is bad and he marvels at its magnitude. He marvels, too, at his hunger, the new awareness of his body, and his attraction to Julie. “Don’t you touch her,” he tells himself.
He meets with the sheriff and several members of the town at a party at the hospital. He meets Glen Batton, 36, who is Julie’s sometime “boyfriend.”
When the weather clears, Batton—though he senses Burns as a rival, volunteers to fly him to Kolvik. The day trip in the small plane is a bitter disappointment for Burns because Batton won’t land.
Burns makes contact with Blazo and decides to risk the journey out on Blazo’s snowmachine. The night before the trip, Glen Batton comes to Julie’s trailer and there is a confrontation.
The trip to Kolvic is arduous. The snowmachine breaks down and Burns considers the reasons he has come. Blazo repairs the problems and they press on to Kolvik. Blazo’s family—from whom he is estranged—lives in Kolvik. Burns and Blazo stop in for some hot food.
Then the two men travel out of the village to the site where Burns’ son’s cabin stood. Burns lies in the snow in the valley where his son died. He realizes there is no atonement for the things he’s done in his life, the mistakes, the drinking, the neglect; but he is frankly amazed to be alive again after so many years. As he lies there, Blazo approaches and speaks for the first time, “We’ll stay at my daughter’s tonight,” he says. “It’s too late for Kotsebue.”
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