The residents of Toehold, Alaska, are an odd collection of eccentric souls reveling in the fierceness of the land and determined to live on their own terms. All of them have stories, some ridiculous, some bordering on the Homeric. Summer Joe has a harem of wives and a weakness for Jewish social workers. Six-foot-three-inch Sweet-ass Sue runs the town's only bar. There's Buddy Barconi, an ex-New York fireman with a raunchy sense of humor matched perfectly by a total lack of propriety. And Mary Ellen Madden, known as Mel to her friends, a cash-strapped vagabond with gray-green eyes and a double-wide smile who's trying her luck as a hunting guide.
When her first customer appears, a ruthless Hollywood producer seeking the glory of the kill, Mel and her best friend, Cody Rosewater -- the son of a San Francisco flower child, and now Toehold's taxidermist -- can no longer ignore the tension that's been crackling between them for years.
Always in the background is the raw majesty of the northern wild: crazed moose bolt down Main Street, caribou are violently ambushed by wolves, and the eight-month-long winter night is illuminated by the northern lights.
Funny and romantic, with a cast of unforgettable characters, Toehold is at once a laugh-out-loud comedy, a quirky love story, and a sublime evocation of the beautiful, rugged wilderness of Alaska.
The Alaskan wilderness provides a formidable backdrop for Foreman's detail-rich though meandering first novel. In Toehold, with a population of 200, an Arctic "bush village," a collection of surly characters have their quirks, but this is no quaint Northern Exposure hamlet. Subsisting on a diet of moose, caribou and the beer down at Sweet-ass Sue's Pingo Palace, the town's citizens see simply surviving the winter as a source of pride. Like many residents, fiery Mary Ellen "Mel" Madden, originally from Mudsuck, W.Va., came to Toehold with "just no place left to go." But thanks to Cody Rosewater, the town's taxidermist and "go-to" guy, Mel soon learns how to track, hunt and trap. She puts her new skills to work by hanging out her hunting guide shingle. But her first client, a smarmy Hollywood producer, may prove to be more dangerous than the golden grizzly they set out after. Plenty of shots get fired, and somewhere in the harsh landscape love starts to bloom. While the depiction of life in the Alaskan bush can be striking, the romance is less than stirring, and some sluggish prose and big chunks of character backstory slow things down.