3 Stars - Recommended to fans of multiple story lines, Arctic Expeditions, and Vitamin C deficiencies
Publisher: Bellevue Press
Every good writer must suffer as those within his story suffer. Become the characters, live as they lived, even if it means avoiding each and every food that contains traces of Vitamin C so you can purposely give yourself scurvy. At least, that is Thomas Franklin's hope.
Thomas - an angsty teenage boy (show me one who isn't) - believes he is a direct descendant of the historical Franklin from the failed Arctic expedition. He immerses himself in this fantasy, sketching out a movie of the expedition in an attempt to recreate the event, bringing life to the men aboard the ship, discussing it passionately with his father, while avoiding the more difficult conversations of their recent move to a remote northern corner of Canada and his adjustment - or lack thereof - to his parents' separation.
John Franklin - teaching at his son's high school and distracted by an attempt to rekindle an on again/off again affair - tried his best to be the father Thomas needs him to be. He struggles to give his son space, allowing Thomas to revel in his fantasy world of icebergs and cannibalism without pressuring him for too much information.
As Thomas and his father completely miss the point and avoid working towards a more intimate relationship, they become something like passing ships to one another. Thomas is unaware of his father's issues at school while John doesn't notice his son's blatant attempt to beat his body into a bleeding, starving scurvy-ridden shell.
Gregory Spatz uses his novel Inukshuk as a platform for many meaningful subplots - which, at times compliment one another very well and at other times appear to work very much against each other. If I'm being honest, at times, I wasn't even sure what the book's main plot was... is it possible for a book to be made up of a series of subplots without ever having committed to one main plot?
There's the overall family drama story arc - you have a father and son, with an absent mother, who struggle to develop and maintain a normal, healthy relationship and tend to work at odds against one another. This story arc is told through two clearly separate means:
The father's side of the story - his inability to let go of the hope that his estranged wife will return, his obsession with Miora (the mother of a boy who beats up his son at school), his inability to find something he and his son can grasp onto, and the fact that he loses himself to his poetry as a means of escaping it all.
And the son's side of the story - the embarrassing crush he has on his younger neighbor, his obsession with the Franklin expedition and the burning desire to write it all out, his devil-may-care attitude regarding school and fitting in with the other kids his age, and the early independence that his father has pushed onto him by not being around.Within this flip-flop style of writing - while we are immersed in Thomas's side of things - we are given an additional story line... that of the actual events that Thomas is creating and chronicling into a movie format of the Arctic expedition. We meet and read about the two main characters aboard Franklin's ship and the hardships they are facing as they freeze and starve to death in the middle of the ocean.
While Gregory weaves all of this throughout the pages of his novel, he maintains a strict third person narrative. This is perhaps the most jarring aspect of the entire book for me. The overall effect left me feeling disconnected. I had very little empathy for what was taking place in either of their lives. More often than not, I found that I was just reading for the sake of reading.
I'm left wondering how John and Thomas's portions of the story would have come across had they been told in first person. Would I have felt a more vested interest in their individual struggles? Would I have been unable to put the book down because I was dying to know what was going to happen to them next? This is one of the first times that I've ever been painfully aware of a novel's POV. Did Gregory test out different points of view before settling on this one? Did first person never cross his mind? If it was written in first person, would it have actually accomplished what I longed for - a deeper connection with and growing concern for John and Thomas? I suppose I will never know...
Inukshuk was a valiant effort at mixing history with present day. While it didn't make me want to research Arctic expeditions, or create any sympathy angst for Thomas and love-loss regret for John, it did tell a good story. I imagine history buffs would find much more to appreciate here than I did. I walked away feeling a wee bit of this book went right over my head.