Review: Correcting the Landscape by Marjorie Kowalski Cole

I just finished reading the late Alaska author Marjorie Kowalski Cole‘s award-winning novel Correcting the Landscape for the second time. And I’m still impressed by the quietness of this book, and how it lulls you in, how it wraps around you in the simplest and yet most secure of ways.

The book, which won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction (judged by Barbara Kingsolver), takes place in Fairbanks, Alaska, and the winter landscape comes through so clearly that I often had to stop reading to make myself a cup of tea (winters in Fairbanks typically see temps in the -30 range).

The plot revolves around Gus Traynor, publisher of a small-town dying newspaper, and his relationship with the town’s residents, as well as the town’s landscape.

Following a series of complex subjects, the story wraps itself around deceptively simple situations. Trees are cut down to make way for ugly tourist cabins; advertisers pull out after Traynor publishes op-ed pieces in support of a controversial library book; his hard-drinking best friend falls in love with a New-Age sculptor; there’s a gay poet with a yearning soul; a sister unlucky in both love and happiness; a troubled village girl found dead in the river; and Traynor finds himself falling in love with a Native woman who’s been married five times and is determinedly putting herself through college.

And, oh yes, there’s a ugly and offensive statue that shadows the story, acting as a metaphor for the town’s voice (a voice determined to subdue ugly pieces of its past). When this statue has a bit of a disagreement with a CAT machine, I almost cheered.

Yet what I loved most about Correcting the Landscape is the writing. “Sometimes winter closes down on Fairbanks like a cell door,” Kowalski-Cole writes.

Sadly, Kowalski-Cole died of cancer in 2009. She was only in her fifties.

It’s odd, isn’t it, reading a book by someone who is no longer alive and yet still feeling that connection, that intimacy, that bond of familiarity that flows so strongly between reader and writer.

I wish I could have met Marjorie. I would have loved to have had tea with her, and talk about writing and words, simple and quiet things.

Thanks so, so much for your book, and your beautiful words, Marjorie.


3 thoughts on “Review: Correcting the Landscape by Marjorie Kowalski Cole

  1. Wow, yes so young! Sounds like an interesting book. How is your weather right now? We have recently moved to Beaumont, CA, half way between Palm Springs and Rancho Cucamonga, where we used to live. Though only about 40 minutes from Rancho, Beamont’s weather seems a little different. Better air, but more distinct change of seasons judging by the beginning of fall so far. Give Seriously a hug!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s 47 and raining right now. The mountains are peaked with snow. Soon we will have snow, in like a few weeks, if not sooner. It’s almost time to head down to Tucson but it’s difficult to leave one life for another, you know? How cool that you’ve moved and can now enjoy the seasons a bit more. Maybe we can meet sometime. The Palm Springs area is not that far from Tucson. P.S. Seriously sends big, fat, messy doggy kisses.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Cinthia! I would love to meet with you sometime. I can imagine that it is challenging to adapt to the change of environment. I am so sensitive to even micro-environments that this year of travel and moving has put me in some moods! Thank Seriously for me and hugs and kisses back!

        Liked by 1 person

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