In Bad Guys the highly acclaimed author of Island Sojourn and Beyond the Mountain gives us for the first time a novel in the comic mode - a tale at once farcical in its invention, lyric in its painting of the northern wilderness, and fiercely touching in its advocacy of the human spirit.
Played out against the backdrop of the Gulf of Alaska, “where rocks are really rocks,” this is a novel full of “bad guys”: the inhabitants - and the strange invaders - of Chenega, an island work camp for juvenile delinquents. Among them are the fifteen-year-old half Aleut camper Harry, educated into a piercing purity of heart by the longtime need to keep his crazy brother from killing . . . and the intruders: Spike, a graduate of Chenega, educated into muddled vengefulness by prison after prison; his enormously fat and naive companion, Wesley, a drifter who is guided in his travels by the World Spirit; and Wesley’s driven, anorexic daughter, Amolia.
As, with wild ineptitude, the three “terrorists” make their way toward Chenega to lay siege to the camp; as Harry scours the dictionary for language (“you noxious miasma, you pusillanimous pismire”) that will permit self-expression in the face of the No Swearing rule; and as the on-island director’s wistful game plan of teaching the campers Trust metamorphoses into a mass breakout, Bad Guys careens through an absurd and heart-stopping moment of violence to a climax that is a celebration of innocence and courage.
Readers of Island Sojourn and Beyond the Mountain will find the same pleasures here: textured and cadenced prose, resonant imagery, sharply and lovingly defined characters, a powerful evocation of the sometimes terrible beauty of the natural world. But in Bad Guys, as never before in her work, Elizabeth Arthur depicts the intricate interweaving of comedy with tragedy that is the core of life. This is a wonderfully funny and deeply moving book.
Book excerpt will be available when e-version of Bad Guys is online at Hollow Tree Press.