Letters From Alaska, Book II
by John Shields 

Copywrite, 2008
(Paperback - July 27, 2010)
ISBN-10: 1435730933
ISBN-13: 978-1-4357-3093-9
$17.04, 352 pp

Author, John Shields, has written an exceptional book. As an intellectual and highly descriptive writer, I see this book in the genre of Academic Fiction, along with A.S. Byatt, and Simon Winchester.  Further, this is a unique narrative in that it is a psychological journey, a rite of passage if you will, a progressive narrative of one young man in college, in the 60s, who is finding his way in the world of ideology, psychology, and theories on humanity and its purpose and meaning. This is his personal stream of consciousness, a progressive journey into adulthood, while unpacking Postmodern thought. There are three books in the trilogy: this is the second book. This is a real look at a developing Baby Boomer.
            Shields’ prose is written as precise as a surgeon. His narrative winds in psychological pathways as does the minds and movements of his characters and plot, and he ties this to the landscape of Alaska, with its wild setting adjacent to academic monuments and buildings, its voluminous flora and fauna, its trees, wolves, all depicting the natural state being taken over by civility and society proper—a great metaphor for what was going on inside the protagonist and simultaneously in history—at least to the protagonist.
            Shields’ narrative illustrates the middle academic years of the life of the protagonist, Ansley Perkins, who is an intellectual graduate student, yet inexperienced young man, and whose intellectual philosophy in the Postmodern view manifests throughout the book, displaying his disconcertion with the status quo as he views society in the light of the 60s in America, including the authorial animosity toward our country’s political machine, which was so prevalent at the time.
            In a nutshell, it is a perspective of restlessness in youth with all things social and political, and has much to offer in the clash of tradition and conformity with youth’s unrest during the 60s, and probably can be identified generally with anytime or any generation AFTER the 60s.
            Ansley Perkins, an astute and cynical young man, personifies the upper middle class, and writes letters to people and vents about all the things that disturb him, such as the war in Viet Nam, the unrest of the Civil Rights Movement, the Hippie experience and the need for the bohemian trend of the 60s—sex, drugs and rock and roll—all reflecting the rebellious age of the 60s through Postmodernism—but really, depicts the disillusionment with the previous views and belief systems of the previous generations in the protagonist, who is seeking to establish his own belief system.
            Ansley begins his journey at Alaska University, as a graduate student who has been elected a Teacher’s Assistant, teaching courses while finishing up his degree, and forming the ideas that he believes are a natural reaction to the professions of American patriotism, conformity and convention.
             Ansley’s vision is to change the world and return man to man’s true place in nature and the universe, by butting traditional America head on. He is constantly challenging his peers, parents, and anyone he believes, are lesser thinkers with controversial behavior and claims, by utilizing the newly academic freedom for  such experiments as outrageous poetry, crow-like screetches in a public and conventional setting; continual sarcasm toward his professors’ conformities, and baudy antagonism toward police or authority figures.
            Ansley manifests something undeniable about youth: its sense of bald courage, while lacking experience of life. Ansley is rebellious in his outbursts, and sincerely searches through the newly developing postmodernist ideology to find where he fits in. He attempts to de-construct every traditional idea and rails every chance he gets, against the status quo, to prove (mostly to himself) that he will not fall into the same patterns as his father and mother before him.
 “It’s like the Freudian ego,” I said: “and I put ‘ego’ on the board beside Freud’s name. ‘Ego is the false self,’ I said; ‘ego is the mere appearance of the true self. It’s what stands there waiting to be adorned by roles and labels; it’s what bounces off society’s reflective screen. How society regards us is how we are to regard ourselves. There is no reality apart from society.’ (61) I say this sarcastically, of course.”

            Ansley relishes in his new wildlife surroundings while being given classes to teach and while working on his master’s degree amidst the Alaskan wildlife. He is ever entranced and raptured by its natural state and beauty:

 “Rabbits abound; birds: an exceedingly large and rotund variety of pale Gray Jay. Mice, I imagine, amongst the mushrooms and fecund leaves; perhaps a shrew or two nosing around. No snakes. No snakes in Alaska.”(11)

But he also has those yearnings in him that try to understand his ancestry and their origin, who and what his roots are, and why he is drawn to the things he considers to be his own parents consequences. There are moments he looks at the older generation and seems sadly confused by it.
            Ansley is the quintessential consciousness of the Postmodern Ideology being developed before the reader’s eyes.  Throughout the book he is obsessively analyzing life and existence; love and loyalty; truth and convenience apart from it. His family, his fiancee’s family, and every one of the establishment seems to be concerned with his taking things much too far—and he is, because he is afraid of conforming.
            If you want to understand a perspective of the 60s Baby Boomers, John Shields gives the readers their desire to the fullest. I recommend this book, and his other Book I, and III (though I have not read them yet) if you are interested in the period of history.

Reviewed by Lydia Nolan,
Creator | Founder,
International Books CafĂ© ®


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