Some books are a real surprise. If I tell you that “The Raven’s Gift” is a novel about a young married couple who travel to a remote part of Alaska to teach Yup’ik children, you’re likely to start nodding off even before this sentence ends. But if I ask you to imagine a novel with the hunter-hunted suspense of Geoffrey Household’s “Rogue Male,” the post-apocalyptic bleakness of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and the haunting mysteriousness of “The X-Files,” then you’re far more likely to pay attention. So pay attention.
Don Rearden’s “The Raven’s Gift” is both of the above books, alternating between one story in the past and another in the present. In the earliest in time, the intrepid teachers John and Anna Morgan undergo considerable culture shock in isolated Nunacua but gradually connect with their students and make new friends. In these sections, Rearden sometimes verges on the didactic, eager to convey information about the Yup’ik people, their traditional hunting and fishing practices, and the current conditions of their lives under a government that treats them as inconvenient anachronisms while exploiting their land (for oil, for gold).