This novel operates on myriad levels, and there is enough here to make you think for years. Multiple readings will only raise more questions, and/or cause you to rethink the conclusions you've previously thought solid. Merely for the fact that this is a book that makes one think and ponder and consider, it is a great book.
The basic story is that of a WWII bomber crewman shot down over Tokyo immediately prior to the great firebomb raids of Spring 1945. He is utterly alone on a hostile foreign island, likely listed as missing, presumed dead, with the book's opening pages promising a superior adventure as our protagonist struggles to stay alive and eventually repatriate. But, as the story matures and we gradually learn more about Muldrow, we see that repatriation has been only a fleeting inspiration. Mudrow has been freed, and he pushes north toward a place that is much more imagined than real.
As he struggles north Muldrow changes from serviceman to fugitive, from survivor to predator, from endangered hero to questionable protagonist to a perplexing and difficult-to-like principal character. To my reading, Muldrow is an unpredictable, dangerous psychotic, with only the regimen and discipline of societal interaction and military service having kept him in check during brief periods of his life. When in his element, out in the wilderness relying only upon himself, he is a nation unto himself, free to make any choice which suits his needs and his whims. We see it in the flashbacks to Alaska, and we see it in his maniacal odyssey to Hokkaido and the White Sea, and to a mental and physical place which of course does not exist.
In the end where does Muldrow go? This is as debatable as the nature of his character, the origins of his actions and thoughts, and his motivations. Dickey takes us from a strong, pulsing adventure narrative in the opening pages to a lyrical, poetic, almost mythical climax as Muldrow finally dies/transforms/transcends. It is a fascinating transformation for the character, for the narrative, and for the experience of the reader. I wholeheartedly recommend this riveting, expertly written book.
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