One thing I love about reading books is learning something I knew nothing about. Refraction: An Artic Memoir by Bruce Rettig did not disappoint.
In some ways Refraction is like a coming of age book. Isn’t that what college years are after all—a time to learn about so much more than what is delivered in a classroom.
For Rettig, part of his education and growth came during the four summers he spent in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, working for Arctic Marine Freighters, a division of Crowley Maritime. The company did work for oil companies.
It is his experiences during this time that fill the pages of his memoir.
It was as though I was transported to the desolate Artic outpost through Rettig’s words. I could feel the monotony of the industrial work, the depth of relationships, and visualize the desolate landscape through his words. His growth as a person is nearly palpable. As he learns about the area, this line of work and life so do readers.
The book kept getting better with each chapter. I kept wanting to know more, and Rettig was accommodating as his life’s story unfolded. Interwoven are the uncertainties that loomed because of the Cold War, as well as the challenges of being so far from family and friends, and questioning what he wanted to do after graduation. Interwoven in the stories are his questions about the environment, personal relationships and life in general.
“The personal connection forever changed how I viewed oil development in Alaska or anywhere else in the world. The words ‘Drill, baby, drill’ scorch my soul,” Rettig writes. After all, where he was working is the largest oil field in North America.
Many of the chapters start with a black and white photo that the Meyers resident took while in Alaska. They bring a stark a reality to the letters on the page.
Rettig started his Alaska work in 1982 as a grunt and finished his last season as one of the last to leave, doing a task in minus 40-degree weather.
As he said, “Living in such rugged territory is challenging and life-threatening.”
Tahoe residents will appreciate his references to the basin, while those with some history to the area will understand the significance to his mentioning MTBE and Shell Oil.
My main criticism is the title of the book. While it’s accurate and descriptive in a way, I’m not sure it is going to get someone to pick up the book. I hope I’m wrong because this is a book worth reading.
“Refraction” isn’t ready for the masses to consume. It is scheduled to be released Nov. 15 by Wayfarer Books, an Eco-Lit imprint of Homebound Publications. While it will be available online via large retailers, Rettig is a believer in buying locally and supporting independent bookstores.
Note: This book review first appeared in the Tahoe Mountain News.