Correcting the Landscape By Marjorie Kowalski Cole


Marjorie Kowalski Cole ✓ 4 Summary

Life in Alaska. It’s a hardscrabble life, but it is a community. Feels true to the folks who actually live in this small town. Gus, the editor and publisher of the town’s weekly newspaper, struggles to make it all work. When his conservative advertisers sense his editorial tone is on the left, they pull out leaving him with a paper that can’t make ends meet. The characters, embedded in the challenging landscape of Alaska, take what they have and do their best. Like joining them in their lives for a while. English I read this book because it fit into one of the categories of a reading challenge I'm enrolled in. I'm so glad it was short. This book was ok never really could get into any of the characters. The ending was interesting but were we supposed to cheer as two of the characters get drunked up one night and use a bulldozer to destroy a statue that they felt was demeaning to the people. How does this make them any better than the people who cleared a stand of timber along the river to make room for tourist cabins? This book just plodded along. Then the author just wrapped it all up in as neat a little package as she could. English Winner of the Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction in 2004, this book was good to read while in Alaska, as the story includes many issues pertinent to the state and its people: wilderness (its beauty, its harsh realities, and the threats it endures); the hardships of small-town life; the difficulties of running a small newspaper (financial and editorial); the roughness of life and survival for many Native Alaskans and others caught in a place with few choices and a hard climate; the seeming catch-22 of justice for some and none for others; the boons and tribulations of being beholden to a tourist industry. Strong, interesting characters, many of whom work hard to bridge differences of class, race, and politics. English Winner of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction
Set in Alaska, newspaper editor, environmental issues, ethical issues.
Extremely well written. English This book was definitely not a gripper. I kind of put it down a few times, unsure if I would finish. But in the end I decided it was worth it. I really liked the narrator's voice, and I enjoyed the setting in Alaska. I especially liked his philosophical musings on journalism. See my favorite quote below.

There's an entertainment value in newspaper work, but lately the entertainment had started to wear thin, wasn't enough. Journalism: the news of the day: it's a form of writing that by it's very nature spins deceit, because you have to start somewhere, and you have to have coherence in your story, and real life is not like that. Rarely does a beginning present itself when you're covering the news, in all honesty. It all goes back farther in recent history than we can afford to pursue. A reporter steps into the mess and says Okay, I'll start here, I'll elevate this detail to the starting post. It begins with this. And once he's done that, the need for a coherent narrative threatens to dictate the next detail, and the next. There's so much left out. Readers need to read for what's left out (85). English

The editor of a small weekly newspaper in Fairbanks, Alaska, Gus Traynor is an independent spirit whose idealism has survived numerous tests. When big business interests threaten the breathtaking wilderness he cherishes, he joins forces with his best friend—an often self-serving developer—to take on the forces of progress. Soon, in his determination to preserve the dignity and heritage of his community, Gus is learning more than he has ever imagined about the region's colorful mix of opportunists, dreamers, and artists. But his mission is complicated by the discovery of a young woman's body floating in the river . . . and by the blossoming of an unexpected love. Correcting the Landscape

Simple yet effective execution of what could have been an droll and wanky plot. That's all. (Writing this while hearing Michelle Obama's emotional and inspiring speech}... Go Obama!

P.S. I'm looking for more Kowalski Cole. English Came across this book while weeding the fiction collection in the library where I work. Cover blurbs made me want to give it a shot. The strength of the narrator's voice and a sense of the fabric of the community in Fairbanks, Alaska were very enjoyable. I also liked the exploration of success/failure, intimacy, family ties, and sense of place. English This book was more about the death of a small community paper than about the investigation of a girl's death. The storyline meandered and for the first half of the book seemed to be going nowhere. The dialog was difficult at times since the characters didn't really have their own voices and was not made any less confusing by one of the characters having the nickname of No, which seemed to often occur at the beginning of sentences. The main character even notes that No herself mistakenly thought he was calling her rather than saying no. Some of the character development takes place after the characters are practically out of the story (Judy). I found that most annoying of all, when an undeveloped character would be referred to, for example, as a woman like that. Like what? There's not been enough interaction, dialog, background, etc. to know what that character is supposed to be like. The last two chapters of the book were slightly redeeming, but it was an awful lot of rambling to get through first. I did like the poem Correcting the Landscape attributed to the character of Felix Heaven. Maybe the author should have stuck to poetry. English 'Correcting the Landscape' was one of the books I purchased with my new philosophy on buying book... read those which win awards. :)

The cover of this book is a beautiful images of a snow-capped mountain range mirrored in a lake. However on closer inspection of the image, you find that the whole image is actually upside down. This is representative of what I learned from the story: that sometimes the world you look at every day without question is actually upside down from how it should be. :)

I really liked the eye-opening experience the lead character had in the book. He struggled with trying to keep things unchanged and his role in his small community. But when it did change, he realized that his life became more honest than ever before. I hold that idea in mind on those days when work gets me down and I'm too scared to quit or find something new. It makes me consider the exciting possibilities that a change might hold. English originally published at

The backstory: Correcting the Landscape won the Bellwether Prize in 2004.

The basics: In Fairbanks, Alaska, Gus runs a newspaper struggling financially, both for the familiar reasons and because of the local advertisers, who increasingly take issue with the paper's political views and are pulling their financial support.

My thoughts: I majored in journalism in college, and I have a fascination with stories about journalists. I'm also fascinated by life in Alaska, so when I discovered this novel on my quest to read all of the Bellwether Prize winners, I was looking forward to it. Correcting the Landscape is a realistic, and depressing, look at the small town newspaper industry, but it's emphasis is really on telling the story of Gus, whose personal turmoil drifts into work, just as his professional turmoil is deeply personal. As a character, I admit I never felt connected to Gus, but Kowalski Cole's writing was so beautiful, I didn't care.

The themes of social justice in this novel are haunting. While it's a story of one man in one Alaska town, there is a universality in its arguments about the importance of news in our society:

These three kids of his, their arrival over the years had kept pace with an increasing conservatism on his and Mary’s part. World too painful to present to his children, so you just pretend it’s different? Pretend these painful, ugly things don’t exist?

Through the writing, grim events, and Alaska setting (the author was Alaskan), there's a chill to this novel, but there's also a lingering hope, for both Gus as an individual and for the newspaper itself.

Favorite passage: A sense of community made me look up from my pages in anticipation of future struggles.

The verdict: Correcting the Landscape is a fascinating glimpse into Alaska and the newspaper industry. I enjoyed the larger themes more than the internal struggles of Gus, but the strength of this novel is in Kowalski Cole's prose. English