“Jimmy Bluefeather,” a new novel by Kim Heacox, is a masterful work of fiction. It fits snugly in the spaces between Kim’s previous books, much as the bones of his main character, Old Keb, fit the wood of his cane, ”the wilderness between his fingers.”
That line comes from the third paragraph of this engaging book. I stopped and read the first five paragraphs several times before turning the page. I wanted to savor the craft of Kim’s writing like swirling a fine wine in the glass before sipping. I was hooked. I liked Keb from page one, and cared about what might happen to him.
This is very important, because at his core Kim Heacox is an activist, a disruptive radical on a mission to save the world. “Imagine ... it isn’t hard to do.” Except that it is, but Kim makes it less hard through the gracefulness of his writing and the quirky likability of his characters.
With the wry portraits in Jimmy Bluefeather, Kim captures the essence of a small town in Southeast Alaska with the gentle fondness and keen accuracy of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon. Keb’s inner monologue says at one point: “To tell a story was no small thing; you had to have both permission and authority.” Kim has clearly acquired both through long years of close and loving observation.
There are many themes playing out in Jimmy Bluefeather. One is not to die, to stop living, before you are dead. Death is not so bad as dying. Carpe diem. This plays out through the plot, involving a tragic accident, a grandfather's love, and a canoe caper for the ages.
Another theme is a plea that we not lose sight of our origins, of our place in the natural world. Paul McCartney’s “Get back ... to where you once belonged” is a motto for living, just as his "Black Bird" describes Raven. And Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind” is a fine name for a red cedar canoe in which to make one's escape.
In addition to ‘60s music, Kim Heacox pays homage to another hero, Edward Abbey. The motley cast of characters include several who would be very comfortable in the pages of “The Monkeywrench Gang. “
And it is an admonition of Abbey’s that most fits Kim’s new book: “Sentiment without action is the ruin of your soul.” A writer’s activism is to get under your skin, to lift the reader to a new plane of consciousness, to inspire and motivate.
Kim Heacox has something to say, an important message about man’s place in nature. “The world is not ours to be mastered, only cared for.” It is also where we get back to ourselves, and find our own true nature. “You don’t have to master nature,” Old Keb reflects, “you only have to master yourself.”
But Kim is clever and subtle, like Raven. His holistic environmental message usually lurks beneath the surface of his words, only emerging when timely and appropriate to face the light of day.
First, we come to care about Old Keb and his family and widening circle of friends. We are engrossed by the characters and the narrative lines that drive them forward. We turn the pages to find out what happens. It’s a good yarn, well and precisely told.
Activism is present on every page. “Words are tools too,” in this case well used in the service of Kim’s passion for nature. Almost before we know it, we are rooting for Keb and the others to get back to the inner place where they once belonged. It is a wild and wonderful magical mystery tour, with just a hint of mysticism and a healthy dose of morality.
Like its opening paragraphs, "Jimmy Bluefeather" is a book to be savored.
I have previously reviewed two of Kim Heacox's other books.
One of the first Northern Passages blog posts was a review of Kim's biography of John Muir, titled John Muir and the Ice that Started a Fire. You can read it here.
I also reviewed his memoir of a life in and around Denali National Park, Rhythm of the Wild, on Amazon and the Northern Passages Facebook page. You can read it here.