Dressed in mourning clothes of a lady, Mary crashes through bulrushes, ditches, streams and woods, pursued by bloodhounds and twin red-headed men with guns. The year is 1903 and the men are her brothers-in-law, determined to avenge their brother’s death by her hand.
As she struggles physically against exhaustion and starvation, Mary wrestles with her thoughts and illusions. She thinks of her sickly infant son who died—but WAIT–not now. She recalls her deceased mother vaguely—but NO–not now. She longs for her father’s protection—but WAIT– is he a drunk or a reverend? She has visions, converses with apparitions, runs from demons that surround her. I am filled with sympathy for her. Is she insane? Does she suffer from postpartum depression?
To save her own life, Mary runs towards the Canadian Rockies, her only chance to freedom. Eventually, she is rescued by a financially secure gentlewoman from whom Mary steals when the red-headed brothers approach. She escapes higher into the mountains on horseback, wearing the dress of a pampered woman, completely inexperienced at foraging or hunting, destined to die. The wilder her surroundings, the wilder the musings of her mind become. They both seem equally dangerous. I wonder which will dominate her fate. I am frightened for her.
As Mary reveals more to the reader, I begin to question if her insanity is actually an amalgam of painstakingly devised ways to protect herself from further heartbreak,loneliness and a life devoid of love. Her father left the ministry for alcohol and the law when his wife died. Mary’s grandmother and father provided for her physically, but never emotionally. She was socially inept and married her first suitor after only three months. He treated her as one might treat a female slave. Her baby dies. Illiterate due to dyslexia, Mary never had the opportunity to learn or to escape through reading. She is woefully unprepared for any kind of life.
The terror remains palpable throughout the story. Even when Mary is safe, there is a whisper of fear lurking somewhere close. Adamson’s prose vividly paints landscapes and portraits while holding tension of suspense and the unknown. The characters who help Mary are outlanders, too- the gentlewoman, the ferry man, Crow Indian Henry and his white wife Helen, The Reverend Bonnycastle, the dwarf McEchern, and the hermit Ridgerunner. Canada’s worst rockslide in its history in the mining town called Frank has its role here as well.
RCW -Neighborhood Reader