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Originally published Friday, July 27, 2012 at 5:02 AM

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'Inukshuk:' obsessed with Franklin's Northwest Passage quest

Spokane author Gregory Spatz's novel "Inukshuk" tells the story of a young man living in northern Canada who is obsessed with the ill-fated Franklin expedition. Spatz reads Wednesday at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Gregory Spatz

The author of "Inukshuk" will read at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave., Seattle; free (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybook.com).

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Like many teenagers, Thomas Franklin is angst-ridden. He lives in the isolated community of Houndstitch in the remote north of Canada and has to deal with bullies at the high school he attends and where his father teaches. He also worries about his budding relationship with a neighborhood girl.

Unlike other teenagers, Franklin is trying to avoid all vitamin C, in the hopes of knowing what it feels like to have scurvy. He does so because he is obsessed with, and hoping to make a movie about, one of the most infamous adventures in history: the doomed Franklin Expedition. Launched from England in 1845, the expedition attempted to find the Northwest Passage but failed. Every man died, with some resorting to cannibalism.

Thomas' obsession lies at the heart of Gregory Spatz's new novel, "Inukshuk" (Bellevue Literary Press, 224 pp., $14.95). A winner of the Washington State Book Award for "Wonderful Tricks," a collection of short stories, Spatz teaches at Eastern Washington University.

As the title implies — inukshuk are way-finding cairns built by the Inuit — both father and son need help to find their true paths, for not only does Thomas struggle in Houndstitch, but so does his father, John, who has his own angst. Will he ever finish his epic-poetry collection about Sule Skerry, an imagined underwater kingdom of selkies? Will he have an affair with an old flame?

Spatz, a descendant of the historic Franklin, is at his best when imagining the evocative details of what really happened on his ancestor's epic expedition, though if you don't know much about Franklin, you might be lost in the early stages of the novel.

In weaving together the story of the historic Franklin and the modern Franklins, Spatz offers an elaborate tale of family and the paths people take to understanding.

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