Roesch, Mattox. Sometimes We’re Always Real Same-Same. Unbridled, 2009. ISBN 978-1932961874 317 pp. $
Cesar, unwillingly relocated with his Native mother to Unalakleet AK while his older brother serves a lifetime sentence for murdering two teens in a gang hazing, can’t wait to turn 18 and return to LA to go into business with his abusive absentee father, and his brother in jail (as a minor, he isn’t allowed). Immediately upon arrival in Alaska, his well-connected cousin Go-Boy, who he has only met once before, takes him under wing, and makes a bet with him that if he stays a year in the remote village, he’ll make his penned tattoo a permanent one. Go gets Cesar a job, introduces him around, helps him find his place in the close-knit community, and treats him as a peer and sounding board for his own philosophical ideas–Go wants to change the world, starting with the village, believing that a path to Heaven lies in the real world. There is something a little off about Go, and his passionate zeals is slowly unravelled as Cesar comes to know him.
At its heart, Sometimes We’re Always Real Same-Same is about identity, community, guilt, and reciprocity. Roesch gives a strong sense of culture and setting; the cadence of life in an Alaskan fishing village comes through strong and clear, down to the title. Go-Boy’s idealism is highly appealing.
There were some flaws–the narrative gets long winded in places, there are some tangents that aren’t well connected or seem extraneous, and female characters aren’t as vividly or dynamically drawn as male characters. Imperfect, but still a wonderful debut novel that I devoured in one sitting.