The story of the first novel’s determination “a love letter” to Alaska
Southeast Alaska is a good setting for a coming-of-age story. The rigors of the jobs available to young people here – mainly in the fishing industry – and the dangers of the landscape can make or break anyone.
Brendan Jones captures this experience in his first novel The Alaskan Laundry.
He spoke to Robert Woolsey of the KCAW.
Brendan Jones will read from Alaskan laundry 6:00 p.m. Tuesday May 17 at Old Harbor Books in Sitka.
Alaskan laundry is an Alaskan story. But Brendan Jones incorporates details of his childhood in South Philadelphia into the life of his female heroine. Much of his strength is rooted in this city and is put to the test in Alaska.
“Philly loves an underdog. I mean the whole town worships a character who never existed. Rocky is the hero of Philadelphia. So presenting Tara, the protagonist, as an underdog, I think that will really appeal to Philly. “
It is said to be Tara Marconi, an Italian-American who unexpectedly lands a job at a salmon hatchery in Port Anna, a fictitious Sitka lookalike.
Tara grew up in her family’s bakery and in a nearby boxing gym. She’s the “million dollar baby” who smashes the skulls of breeding salmon in a hatchery alley, rather than punching sides of beef in a walk-in fridge like Sylvester Stallone.
But Jones says Tara is also a literary archetype.
“I would like to think that the very idea of a hero’s journey is somewhat universal. You have it in Star Wars, in the Odyssey. Someone leaving what is familiar and questioned, and finding a mentor figure, and questioned again, then coming back with new knowledge. The story of the prodigal son. I think it resonates, hopefully, everywhere.
And for Tara, this story begins in Philadelphia. During her mind-numbing working hours, first in the hatchery and then in a seafood processor, Tara has ample opportunity to reflect on her past. She will see parallels between the working communities of her past and her present. The details are rich.
Jones himself works from memory.
Jones – My first girlfriend when I was in kindergarten was Danika Termini, and her family owned Termini’s Bakery on A Street, just off Tasker in South Philly. And so we spent a lot of time in this bakery, in the room-freezer, making cookies, cannoli…
KCAW – Danika, you’re getting a scream right now.
Jones – Funny, I looked everywhere for Danika. I wanted to invite her to read at the Philadelphia Library, but I don’t know where she is. Maybe she’ll hear that Raven show and call.
KCAW – Maybe she works on a fishing boat here somewhere.
Jones – Wouldn’t the circle come full circle? Wow, I can’t even figure it out.
Jones says he started Alaskan laundry 11 years ago with a more Hemingway-esque man in the lead role, but Tara has finally come to the fore in what he calls “a war of attrition” with his characters. His editor, agent and publisher also lobbied him for other changes – like the inclusion of a dog, a request made two weeks before the manuscript’s due date.
But one key thing has survived the pressure of publication.
“Yes. So Tara, the main character, she falls in love with an old tugboat. Of course, what’s going on is very different, and I’m not Tara. Of course, there are similarities, and I think that we’re going through some of the same things she’s been through when it comes to figuring out how to get the most out of the boat, and how to make a living from it, and how to make it a home. “
The fictional Pacific Chief is almost a literary board-for-board version of the Adak, the tugboat Jones himself lives on in Sitka’s main port.
Jones came to Sitka at the age of 19 to work as a mission volunteer at the Sheldon Jackson College hatchery. He spent a season working in a seafood processor. He spent nine months living in the woods. He became a reporter for the Daily Sitka Sentinel. He went on to work as a carpenter, attended Oxford, and then won a prestigious Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing at Stanford.
There are different types of romance in literature. His professors at Stanford acknowledged the love story Jones wrote in The Alaskan Laundry. They advised him to avoid confusing.
“There are actually awards for the worst sex scenes in novels, and you have some really good novelists who get that award.”
So Jones is calling Alaskan laundry a “love letter” – to the literary tradition he follows, to Alaska, and to the town of Sitka and to the young people who make a home here.
Alaskan laundry is available in pocket format from Mariner Books.