“The border gave Danny a start.” Indeed. Danny is the opening character of Yellowknife by Steve Zipp. Danny is not so much a drifter as a young man down on his luck, living proof of the natural law of irony. When he crosses the border into Yellowknife, his adventure begins. Danny is just the first in a boggling lineup of characters. Freddy, his friend, is equally crafty at scoring dog food for dinner. Then there’s Nora, a biologist with an unusual history with gophers; diamonds and gold are doubly dangerous for her. Hugo, her fiance, is gentle, self-conscious, and never swats a mosquito. We are barely scraping Part I, the entry into the north. Part II begins, “Anyone wishing to escape Yellowknife … .”
You can tell when a skilled writer of the north has lived there. Sure, there are the usual references to the weather, the natives, the mines, and of course, the Franklin expedition. But the writing style is different. When I reviewed Late Nights on Air, I observed that Elizabeth Hay did not foreshadow, was open, but could still mislead, much like the barrens. Zipp’s style is his own, but also permits a reader to be led astray, populating his story with characters who draw you in, then startle you with unexpected, sometimes fatal turns. Mortal danger permeates the style of good writers about the north.
I had not planned on reading this book, but there it was, a gift. I have a weakness for novels about the north. It leapt unbidden to the top of my reading pile. Zipp’s treatment of the north took an extra dimension when his characters stumbled upon the forgotten mines of long abandoned operations, a clever metaphor for psychological exploration. It never ceases to amaze me how such good books can escape wider attention. Yellowknife was published by Res Telluris, a small independent press. It was a perfect fit when I started reading it in March, Small Press Month.