Dayton Daily News “Literary Life” columnist Sharon Short recently published her latest book, “My One Square Inch of Alaska.” Readers who are familiar with her previous works of fiction might anticipate another mystery novel.
Short has published nine mysteries, with titles such as “Death by Deep Dish Pie,” “Tie Died and Dead” and “Hung Out to Die: A Stain Busting Mystery.”
The Centerville author’s latest literary endeavor is not a mystery. Nevertheless there’s something mysterious happening in this story. “My One Square Inch of Alaska” is set near Dayton in the fictional town of Groverton. It takes place during autumn. The year is 1953.
Donna Lane is our narrator. She’s 17 years old and entering her senior year in high school. Seven years before she had discovered her treasures; “it was October 1946 when I found Mama’s clothes.” Thirty-eight of her mother’s outfits were hidden away in suitcases in the basement.
So here’s our mysterious event: What has become of Donna’s mother? Where is she? There were no goodbyes. So there’s been no closure for this shattered family. Donna lives with her father and her little brother Will, who is in the fifth grade.
There’s a void in this family where a mother used to be. They don’t talk about her too much. Donna is secretly altering her mother’s dresses to make new ones for herself. So far her dad hasn’t recognized any of them.
Groverton is a classic pre-Rust Belt Ohio town. The major manufacturer and employer is Groverton Pulp & Paper. Donna’s dad used to work there. Now he works at Ace Hardware. He acts like a broken man.
Donna has dreams of becoming a seamstress in New York City. She’s a waitress at Dot’s Corner Cafe. Dot is her grandmother, her father’s mother, and she is a piece of work — and not a warm person. Donna has another part-time job doing alterations for a dress shop. She’s saving every penny for her escape to the big city.
This young woman is by default the maternal presence in the household. The dad has seemingly checked out. Grandma is not your nurturing type. Young Will is certainly in need of some love and affection.
Will is at the emotional center of “My One Square Inch of Alaska.” He’s a sweet kid with a heart of gold. His favorite TV program is “Sergeant Striker and the Alaskan Wild.” Will is dutifully consuming massive quantities of Marvel Puffs cereal so that he can collect enough box tops to send them in and redeem them for a deed representing his ownership of one square inch of Alaska.
Will rescues a dog, a husky he calls Trusty, from an abusive owner. As this saga unfolds we intuitively know that Will, Donna and Trusty will embark on an odyssey that will take them to Alaska to locate Will’s Lilliputian land parcel. The exquisite cover of this book serves as a declaration that this expedition is imminent.
Along the way readers will discover just how much love this trio shares. And we’ll find out if it is possible to forgive a mother who has abandoned her children. Their attempt to locate this one square inch becomes wider and broader. This quixotic journey to the tundra becomes a quest to reveal what really matters in our lives. Sharon Short has written a tale that will pluck on your heartstrings and loosen up your tear ducts.
THIS WEEK’S BOOK
“My One Square Inch of Alaska” by Sharon Short (Plume, 327 pages, $16)