Joe McLernon, a bush Alaska transplant, from Northern Minnesota, has a healthy appetite for tobacco, women, playing ragtime piano, and idle conversation – with anyone who will listen. Select locals know he has a deadly aim and he is a relentless animal tracker. Joe traveled north to study birds for a master’s dissertation, but after fifteen years of fishing, hunting, and falling in and out of love with Eskimo women, Joe loses himself to the restlessness of Alaskan village life. Yukon Muck begins as Joe reluctantly accepts the role of a village police officer. Soon after, he is asked to track and bring to justice a young Eskimo man for the rape a village girl.
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Mary Rae is Yukon Muck's other leading character who travels to the Bering Sea School District to teach elementary school. She needs money for the family farm in Montana, to overcome her insecurities, and to establish her independence. Mary becomes aware of the insensitivities and corruption that many bush Alaska school districts exhibit toward the Natives. She also learns of the overwhelming social dysfunctions, and yet takes pleasure in the simplicity of bush life. Fearlessly, she throws her passion and drive into helping Native children break the cycle of mistrust and pain. Mary and Joe are brought together by chance at a Yupik dance – from there, Joe’s lust for love and change, and Mary’s insecurities and sense of justice, collide.
A cast of Alaskan village characters, and their relationships, drive this story in a dramatic fashion, as the story conveys Alaska’s great traditional themes while telling the naked truth of challenges and enchantments of bush life in the vast Alaskan wilderness. The awesomeness of the northern landscape and its seasons shape all the characters' lives in a touching and tragic story of man versus nature. From the dark, frozen Arctic Ocean to the unrelenting sun of the berry-covered tundra, Joe and Mary find a place in our hearts.