That’s basically what I learned from Heather Lende’s If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska. Granted, the author writes the obits for her local newspaper, so many of her stories lead back to that, but still. Plane crashes seem insanely common, along with people drowning on fishing boats and falling off mountains and all the other dangers associated with living in the middle of nowhere. Plus there’s the fact that the nearest hospital to Lende’s small town of Haines, Alaska, is about 4 hours away — in Canada. And that’s assuming the weather is fairly clear — when Lende’s son was on the brink of a ruptured appendix during a blizzard, it took them almost 8 hours to arrive at the ER.
Now, there do seem to be some upsides to living in a town with 2400 people (about 1/3 of whom don’t live there year round). I really liked the stories about getting together for salmon canning or goat hunting or fishing on a trawlboat. Overall, however, I found If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name mostly unpleasant, for two main reasons. First of all the writing wasn’t very good; it tended to meander and jump back and forth without a lot of reason. Lende writes for her local paper, but she’s hardly an accomplished writer and it shows.
Second of all, the general tone of the book seemed so smug and superior that I found myself getting angry with it. Lende, and most of her acquaintances, identify as Christian and conservative. Fine, whatever floats your boat. However, it comes up a lot in the novel about what good Christians they are — despite the fact that Lende herself admits that her town and its surrounding areas tend to be very unwelcoming to anyone different than themselves — the environmentalists who oppose the logging and fishing trades (anyone liberal, in fact, is how it comes off) as well as homosexuals. In fact, when some members of the town try to stage a workshop to discuss people’s “differences” (aka, some people are gay), it’s completely and totally shut down. And they weren’t even approaching the issue as “some people are born this way”. She flat out says that the workshop was only meant to teach people (students mostly) how to “handle” when people are different, and they couldn’t even get that approved. Doesn’t seem too much like a town worth bragging about, in my opinion. Maybe I took greater offense than I should have, as a liberal non-Christian, but there seemed to be a lot of competing themes in the book — like, Alaska is such a wonderful homey friendly place to live unless you fall into any of these categories.
I enjoyed some of the stories, and the description of how they go about taking care of things in such isolation — the author, for instance, had to get on a plane for every one of her prenatal visits for her third and fourth children because their town doctor could no longer afford his medical malpractice insurance — was interesting, but by the end I was pretty annoyed by the author’s style of writing and had trouble remembering what I liked so much when I started reading.