(I have to acknowledge that this is pretty well in the "not for me" category, but setting that aside, here we go!)
The writing is gorgeous. It's set in the BC interior in about the 1970s, and it has a fantastic sense of place and time. There are multiple layers of community and place and history, and Wagamese really draws that out. The land is evoked vividly, and sometimes brutally, and it feels like what I've known of those places on a bone-deep level.
The story is about, on a deeper level, how utterly the concept of manhood can be messed up by a lack of positive male role models. Here that story is specifically about how the colonial system worked to strip first nations boys from ever having a chance at knowing their families, let alone their ancestors and traditions, and how adrift that set generation after generation of men. That too is vividly and brutally told.
On the surface level, it's about a man who has messed up and poisoned everything he has ever touched. A hearty dose of alcohol poisoning has led him to the end of his life, and now he has one last chance to reconnect with his teenage son (who had the good fortune of being raised by someone mostly more sensible). The son agrees to go on the Road Trip of Death, to learn about his heritage, and to bury his father in what as far as they can tell is a traditional fashion (though possibly not their own cultural tradition).
Honestly, I think all of these characters would have been better off if the father had just written the kid a long letter with all the info he coughs up on the three or four days of dying in this poor kid's arms. I don't especially care for the idea that a child is morally required to give doomsday chances to their abusive parents. In my opinion, spending your life alternately neglecting your kid and taking him on terrifying drinking binges does not entitle you to emotionally blackmail said kid into comforting you on your deathbed, and I'm tired of stories that imply that. (This one was somewhat saved by the kid continuing to be angry throughout, but nevertheless!)
(There was also a secondary character who knew almost all of the really important bits of this info, but decided it was the father's place to pass it on, not his, to which I call massive amounts of bullshit.)
All of the female characters were either saintly, dead or saintly and dead, with the exception of that one prostitute (the other prostitute was saintly). They are universally cogs in the men's stories, not characters with agency and dreams of their own. I'm also pretty tired of that story. I'm curious if that's a theme in this author's books, of if the story-specific if the fixation on fatherhood/manhood drew it out.
I feel like my dad might like this book? It is gorgeously written, just not for me.