“The Gods of Second Chances” by Dan Berne

Ray is a struggling crab fisherman in Alaska, trying to keep his business afloat and raise his granddaughter alone. Then his long-estranged daughter comes home after being released from prison, upsetting the fragile balance of his life and forcing him to face his past.

The conflicts in this novel are all small-scale and personal, which in no way diminishes their impact. Every day for Ray is full of drama, doubt, and wild swings of good and bad luck, as he prays for a good catch that will allow him to keep his boat and his business, and deals with accidents, bad weather, and the vagaries of fortune at sea. Soon he’s involved in multiple law suits, which are brought against him by other people but that he himself keeps aggravating through poor choices. Ray’s character is clearly sketched and shaded, as we see his work ethic, his commitment to his family, and his tendency to let the little things slip, with tragic consequences. The central conflict of the novel, that between Ray and his daughter and their belief in the other’s guilt over the death of Ray’s wife, is skillfully interwoven throughout the narrative, intertwined with Ray’s financial problems, his attraction to a woman he may need to stay away from, and his difficulties as a single grandfather raising an almost-adolescent granddaughter. The day-to-day realities of Ray’s job and life in southeastern Alaska are described with natural details that, like the delineation of Ray’s character, places the reader right there at his side. The effect is heightened by the beautiful pen-and-ink illustrations of animals, done in a Native American style. Not a romantic read, but a slice of real life that leads to a climactic denouement and the promise of redemption.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

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