Alaska is one of the few states I’ve never visited, so everything I know about it is secondhand. Unalakleet, a remote Alaskan village, sounded like an intriguing place to “virtually” visit, and so I waded into this debut novel. As seen through the eyes of 17 year old LA gang banger Cesar, who accompanies his native Eskimo mother back to live with her family after her divorce from Cesar’s father, “Unk” is a desolate place, full of strangers (many related to him), fish, and not much else.
At first Cesar doesn’t plan to stay, but his fear of what his gang might do to him for ditching them and his fascination with manic-depressive cousin Go-Boy keep him around. Cesar often flashes back to his own buried secrets while confronting those of people in town and minimizes his own feelings of guilt by concluding that everyone in the world has done ugly things.
Cesar’s rationalizations are hard to swallow, and in my opinion, the novel went too easy on him. Perhaps his biggest punishment is his inability to form close relationships with girlfriends, but compared to the imprisonment, suicide attempts, and deaths of people close to him, it seems out of balance somehow.
Despite my overall lukewarm reception of the characters and plot, there were compelling scenes scattered throughout that showed great insight into modern Eskimo culture, my favorite being the funeral/wake at the bowling alley.
SOMETIMES WE’RE ALWAYS REAL SAME SAME is available in paperback. Find out more about it on the author's website.