To the White Sea

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

James Dickey’s first two novels, DELIVERANCE (1970) and ALNILAM (1987), are in the epic mode, developing archetypal quests that pit men against hostile natural and human forces over which they eventually triumph, even if only spiritually. TO THE WHITE SEA follows the thematic and structural continuum of the earlier books and echoes much of Dickey’s poetry of the 1960’s, but, similarities notwithstanding, it is compellingly original and not merely a reworking of its predecessors.

A few months before the end of World War II, an American tail gunner, Sergeant Muldrow (whose first name is not given), parachutes from his burning B-29 into the midst of Tokyo. Brought up in Alaska and labeled by his father as half snow goose and half wolverine, he thinks of Japan’s north as a likely sanctuary, so with compass and silk map, he embarks on a trek through the enemy country toward the island of Hokkaido and Japan’s Arctic. Rejecting all social and moral constraints, he wantonly kills people for clothing and to forestall recognition. Survival is all that matters to him, and to this end he calls upon his knowledge of hunting and stalking. Betrayed by an expatriate American monk who offers him refuge, Muldrow is taken by soldiers who bayonet, beat, and bind him; but he manages to free himself, kill his captors, and commandeer their truck.

Solitude eludes him when he reaches Hokkaido, for he first meets a tribe of bear worshippers and then, farther north, comes upon a dying old man who keeps huge white birds to hunt food for him. Muldrow...

(The entire section is 636 words.)