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Originally published Sunday, November 8, 2009 at 12:05 AM

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Book review

'Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same': a teenaged friendship in rural Alaska

"Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same" is Mattox Roesch's debut novel of two teenaged boys and their unlikely friendship in rural Alaska.

Special to The Seattle Times

'Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same'

by Mattox Roesch

Unbridled Books, 336 pp., $15.95

When 17-year-old Cesar moves with his mom from Los Angeles to Unalakleet, a rural Alaska village, he does not want to stay. But in Unalakleet, he encounters his cousin Go-boy and learns that despite his own history haunted by L.A. street gangs, and Go-boy's troubles, rooted in rural Alaska, they are not so different.

Mattox Roesch's first novel, "Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same" is the story of the two boys. Spiritual, optimistic Go-boy loves his girlfriend, Valerie, and is deeply connected to his Eskimo culture. Narrator Cesar, whose older brother is in jail for murder, finds solace in biking remote roads, in drums and with his stepcousin Kiana.

Roesch's novel unfolds chronologically from the moment Cesar arrives, and the reader experiences Unalakleet through his new eyes. Rather than return to L.A., Cesar learns to count salmon, to shore up a floor, and to become part of the Unk community.

For anyone who has visited rural Alaska, Roesch's portrayal of village life will feel real, with its once-a-day cargo plane arrivals, bunny boots and the betting on breakup, when river ice cracks and signals the end of winter. Roesch does not shy away from the alcoholism that is a major influence on village life.

But flashbacks and flash forward, most likely intended as revelatory, are difficult to follow. And Roesch, who sometimes writes with a spare elegance, too often relies on word repetition that feels choppy and overwrought.

The best place to return to in this novel is the friendship between two fantastically screwed up boys, who cope with new emotions, their own demons and tragedy. More than anything, the novel gives a clear sense of life in rural Alaska, but it sometimes falls short of doing the same for the characters who live there.

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