This addition to the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction Series brings to life a rough-and-tumble family of Alaskan homesteaders through a series of linked stories that examine the near-mythological accounts of the Alaskan wilderness, and probe the question of what it means to live up to larger-than-life expectations for toughness and survival.
...this slim volume delivers a powerful look into the lives of three generations and how an unforgiving environment wears them down as they grow ... Moustakis finds a way to make the typical story format of swinging back and forth from present to past seem inventive ... Moustakis wisely avoids painting Alaska as a frontier to be discovered. Instead, she creates infinite and unflinching wilderness, families reduced to animal instinct fighting to survive even as they perpetuate the cycles they struggle to break. Each story burrows deeper into the families, creating stronger links, binding the stories together in a powerful, cohesive structure that gleans new details at every turn and makes them feel valuable ... Moustakis shares O’Connor’s astute character observations and an ability to construct regional values.
The natural world is only an accessory, and very often a witness, to their conflicts. In this way, Bear Down, Bear North is much more than a book about Alaska, or about people living in Alaska. It is a book about people, period. These are stories that dig deep into the fragile and difficult spaces of human experience ... Throughout Bear Down, Bear North, Moustakis describes and re-describes different incarnations of the mother/daughter relationship. She is skilled at showing how these connections must harbor great fragilities as well as points of unbreakable bond ... These are not easy stories. But they do achieve a certain hard beauty. Moustakis’s prose has a careful, even gentle, rhythm that subverts the violence in many of these scenes, and while she avoids promoting an overly simplistic cause and effect relationship of hard country/hard people, she has a good eye for bringing the rawness of Alaska’s beauty into direct comparison with her characters.
In these stories, words cut ears, while fishhooks cut lips. Lures on a mannequin in a doctor's office mark wounds to the body. Fisherwomen fight for their lives; when the line is in the water, anything can happen ... Moustakis' stories are proven on a human field; they offer tools for living in an unbalanced world ... This author understands how intensely everything wants to survive, and she also knows how much that survival costs.