Picks and Pans Review: Eagle Blue

updated 04/03/2006 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/03/2006 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Michael D'Orso


In this rich and often poignant look at an Alaskan bush village and its beloved high school basketball team, D'Orso trains a reporter's eye on Fort Yukon and the Athabascan Gwich'in natives struggling to survive on the brutal, frigid fringe of American culture. The specter of alcoholism and suicide haunts Native Alaskans, and Fort Yukon is no exception. But every year the town rallies around its Eagles boys squad, an undersized but quick team saddled with the expectations of ex-star players, usually fathers and uncles who demand nothing short of the state play-offs from old-school coach Dave Bridges. Traveling to away games in other remote towns usually means a plane ride in a 19-seat Beech twin prop, but the state forbids flying when the temp is less than 40 below zero. D'Orso ingratiates himself with the villagers and gains their trust, not easy in an airtight community deeply suspicious of outsiders. He writes with a deep, warm familiarity with his surroundings and almost never interjects himself into the story. Don't think of this as just a Hoosiers in the tundra. It's a heartfelt homage to a proud, indigenous people who hope to soar with their Eagles, a fleeting escape from lives often battered by more than the Arctic winds.

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