Book Review: The Gods of Second Chances

The Gods of Second Chances
By Dan Berne
Forest Avenue Press, 2014
Softcover, 293 pp., $18.00
http://www.forestavenuepress.com

“Mud and rain invaded my dreams after Donna’s death.” So begins Dan Berne’s debut novel, “The Gods of Second Chances.” His wife’s horrific death occurred one rain-soaked night 12 years ago, and it still haunts Southeast Alaska fisherman Ray Bancroft.

Since then, Ray has been raising his granddaughter Sitka by himself. Family means everything to him. And yet family is the very thing that has turned his world upside down.

As the story opens, Ray is reading for the third time a letter from Sitka’s mom, his estranged daughter Jenny, who writes that she’s getting out of prison soon, is clean and sober, and is ready to come home to Alaska and re-establish contact with Ray and Sitka.

It’s not shaping up to be a happy reunion; Ray blames Jenny, who was a wild and willful teenager, for his wife’s death; she was driving to collect Jenny the night Donna died. He’s been fighting the good fight, mainly fishing for Dungeness crab and shrimp and occasionally taking tourists fishing to pay the bills and feed Sitka’s college fund.

It hasn’t been easy. But Ray’s collection of small statues of various gods and goddesses and the little rituals that his half-Tlingit best friend Felix performs help him navigate life’s difficulties.

However, Jenny’s return (as well as that of Sitka’s shady father), and a lawsuit brought by a boorish tourist who loses a finger or two when he fails to heed Ray’s advice, threaten to destroy everything Ray holds dear.

For all the difficult issues Berne’s novel tackles — broken families, financial struggles, missed opportunities to find love, and the way grief and anger can color our memories — there’s plenty to like about this story. Characters are well drawn, the dialogue is sharp, and the story moves along at a fast clip.

The fishing portions ring true, too, thanks to time that Portland, Ore.-based Berne has spent in Southeast. He’s written an enjoyable page-turner that provides food for thought for fishermen and non-fishermen alike.

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