Bigelow has two obsessions: the weather and a woman. Sent by the Weather Bureau to establish an observatory in early-boomtown, pre-WWI Anchorage, he is determined to prove his original meteorological theory: that a giant current of air sweeps in a circular fashion from the poles to the equator and back again. Pushing this goal to a secondary position in his consciousness is Bigelow's infatuation with an Aleut woman who lives a solitary and silent life. He follows her home from the general store one fall day, and a relationship begins.
Because the woman never speaks, Bigelow does not know her name or her history. Her body language is also mysterious, composed of straightforward stares that reveal no emotion, coupled with equally straightforward sex. Intercourse becomes central to their relationship, which quickly cements into an unvarying pattern. Bigelow arrives with an animal for dinner. The Aleut woman prepares the food. They eat. They have sex. She takes a bath while Bigelow watches, after which he goes home to sleep.
This pattern continues through the winter and into the spring, until one day the woman vanishes without a trace. In the months that follow, Bigelow struggles to remain afloat, weighted down by her absence, a loss exacerbated by the harshness of his surroundings: rough men, extreme weather, an unbeautiful city. Harrison cunningly weaves his despair into the bleak landscape so that each echoes the other. As she did in two previous works of fiction (The Binding Chair, Poison), Kathryn Harrison thoroughly immerses the reader in a world forever out of reach. She has a firm grasp of the intricacies of early 20th century weather prediction as well as the story of Anchorage's past. The result is both an historical education and a literary entanglement, fulfilling readers on numerous levels by the time they reach the last page. Susanna Baird is a writer living in Brookline, Massachusetts.