Authors: Gil Adamson
Tags: #General Fiction, #FIC019000
is, simply enough, a
superb novel, and one senses in the fine writing the potential, or perhaps the
eventuality, of a major writer. The frayed material of the North American west is
rendered in astonishingly fresh light.
is also suspenseful to a
degree that you are often in a state of physical unrest, a condition only occasioned by
“Adamson's writing is superb. . . .”
“. . . uniquely tasty . . . If
this wry reconstruction of the turn-of-the-century woman, it would be worth the price of
admission. It is much more. . . . A dark wonder.”
Globe and Mail
“. . . the prose style of
is rich with
natural details and metaphors. . . .”
“Gil Adamson has chiselled her characters, polished every word, and
into something magical. . . . Adamson's characters
are fully formed, described with nuances and details that make us feel that we really
know them. And her writing is beautiful â poetic, descriptive, lyrical. . . . This
is a book that lingers in the mind long after the final page has been read.”
The Guelph Mercury
“In the tradition of Guy Vanderhaeghe, this is a dark novel with a
long finish. It should age well.”
The Sun Times
“Adamson has crafted a complex portrait of a natural landscape and
the ways in which a motley crew of human misfits interacts with it. . . . Original and
Fast Forward Weekly
“Throughout the novel, Adamson's keen eye for detail and
mastery of language are much in evidence . . . subtle and vividly imagined.”
Winnipeg Free Press
Copyright Â© 2007 Gil Adamson
Introduction Copyright Â© 2012 Esta Spalding
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or
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Distribution of this electronic edition via the Internet or any other
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We appreciate your support of the author's rights.
This edition published in 2012 by
House of Anansi Press
110 Spadina Avenue, Suite 801
LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA CATALOGUING IN
The outlander / Gil
Adamson; introduction by Esta â¨Spalding.
PS8551.D3256O98 2012Â Â Â Â C813'.54Â Â Â Â C2012-903565-3
Cover design: Brian Morgan
Cover Illustration: Genevieve Simms
We acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing
program the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the
Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund.
HOW BEST TO
equip you for a journey into the thrilling and whimsical landscape of
? I want to be a worthy guide, so I will step lightly and quickly, like a woman dashing across a river, and attempt to leave little of my own scent behind.
She is unsure which way to go.
Upriver or down?
Pursued by dogs she wades backward
through the cane brake
to erase her scent.
At a ferry, she crosses to a new world,
hooded and rotting in her funeral skirt
of curtain and bedspread.
Gil Adamson penned these lines in a long poem titled, “Mary,” ten years before the publication of
. It turns out that the poem's eponymous figure is our first glimpse of the novel's protagonist, Mary Boulton, a woman “widowed by her own hand.” In an interview, Adamson confessed that when she finished the poem, she wasn't entirely satisfied with it. “In retrospect I suppose it was because I wasn't finished with the idea, I wasn't finished with the story.” And so she followed Mary further into the woods.
's gorgeous prose owes much to its origins as a poem and to its decade-long gestation. The language is as layered and rich as the mountain in the mining town where much of the novel takes place. Every line is pressurized; the prose harnesses a near-explosive energy. In the course of those ten years, Mary's character also solidified. Whereas the poem ends with an image of her as “pitiless and spectral,” the novel depicts her as a flesh-and-blood girl with a hapless history. Raised in a house of mourning by a preacher father who loses faith after his wife dies, Mary has a melancholy childhood. She grows up to find herself even more isolated â a woman trapped in a loveless marriage on a homestead miles from anyone. Her circumstances beg for our sympathy. Yet the novel retains the poem's original impulse: Mary murders her husband because he has had a hand in dealing her a great loss.
The novel doesn't confide this at first. Instead it begins
in medias res
, after the murder: Mary is being hunted, pursued across the mountains by her dead husband's brothers, red-headed twins hell-bent on revenge. Her flight through the Banff Rockies is rendered in precise and stunning detail, but her precipitous journey is as much psychological as it is physical; the red-headed “abominations” drive Mary further into herself. Perhaps they represent the punishment and retribution of her father's scripture, though one of the many paradoxes of Mary's character is that despite her religious upbringing, she is haunted less by guilt than by grief. The demons she flees are those wrought by memory.
But to speak of the book as a study of one character's reckoning with her own grief is to reduce it in a way I've promised not to do. It gives no intimation of the great fun to be had here â the roiling, rousing interludes with Adamson's wild pantheon of characters: the wealthy crone, Mrs.Â Cawthra-Elliot, and her sadistic maid, Zenta; Henry, the Crow Indian, and Helen, his Baltimore-born wife; the merry Reverend Bonnycastle who lives in a cock-eyed house; and McEchern, a dwarf who sells bootleg whiskey and runs a bathhouse. These delicious episodes trace Mary's slow movement from the land of the shades back into the company of the living.
Most evocative of all is Mary's stirring romance with William Moreland, the Ridgerunner. Moreland is a wanted man, an outlander who shuns society. His heart is as frozen as the hills he lives in, and his solitude has been so protracted that he's surprised to hear he's missed the turn of the century. Mary has everything to learn from Moreland about self-sufficiency and survival. And he has something to learn from her about the pleasures of human connection and desire.
What is the relationship between freedom and love? Can they co-exist or are they destined to snuff each other out? These are the questions that preoccupy Moreland. For her part, Mary is concerned with whether anguish and bereavement can ever adequately be overcome. But there's little time for musing; the twins keep after her. Their pursuit is relentless.
Will Mary's struggle turn her into the nightmare apparition of Adamson's poem â a “quick, descending fury” â or something else? I'll not give away the answer, or anything more, wishing to preserve the great pleasure and surprise that await you in these pages.
For Adrian, the good father
Now goes the sun under the wood,
I pity, Mary, thy
Now goes the sun under the tree,
Mary, thy son and thee.
ANON, THIRTEENTH CENTURY
We could be meeting Jacob and the angel
We could be
meeting our sleeplessness
IT WAS NIGHT
, and dogs came through the trees, unleashed
and howling. They burst from the cover of the woods and their shadows swam across a
moonlit field. For a moment, it was as if her scent had torn like a cobweb and blown on
the wind, shreds of it here and there, useless. The dogs faltered and broke apart,
yearning. Walking now, stiff-legged, they ploughed the grass with their heavy
Finally, the men appeared. They were wordless, exhausted from running with
the dogs, huffing in the dark. First came the boy who owned the dogs, and then two men,
side by side, massive redheads so close in appearance they might be twins. Dabs of
firefly light drifted everywhere; the night was heavy with the smell of manure and
flowering apple and pear. At last, the westernmost hound discovered a new direction, and
dogs and men lurched on.
The girl scrambled through ditchwater and bulrushes, desperate to erase
her scent. For a perilous moment she dared to stop running, to stand motionless,
listening, holding her dark skirts out of the water. In the moonlight, her beautiful
face was hollow as a mask, eyes like holes above the smooth cheeks. The booming in her
ears faded slowly, and she listened to the night air. No wind through the trees. The
frogs had stopped shrilling. No sound except the dripping of her
skirts and, far away, the dogs.
Nineteen years old and already a widow. Mary Boulton. Widowed by her own
The girl stood in her ditch under a hard, small moon. Pale foam rose from
where her shoes sank into mud. No more voices inside her head, no noise but these dogs.
She saw her own course along the ground as a trail of bright light, now doused in the
ditchwater. She clambered up the bank and onto a road, her stiff funeral skirt made of
bedspread and curtain, her hair wild and falling in dark ropes about her face. The widow
gathered up her shawl and fled witchlike down the empty road.
AT DAYBREAK SHE
was waiting for a ferry, hooded and
shivering in her sodden black clothes. She did not know where she was but had simply run
till the road came to an end, and there was the landing. A grand, warning sunrise lay
overhead, lighting the tips of the trees, while the ground was in shadow and cold. The
hem of her skirt was weighed down by mud. She whispered in camaraderie with herself, the
shawl about her ears, while another woman stood uneasy by the empty ticket booth and
held her children silent. They all watched her with large eyes. Even the smallest seemed
to know not to wake the sleepwalker. Out above the river's surface, fat swallows
stabbed at unseen bugs and peeped to one another in emotionless repetition. The ferry
sat unmoving on the other side, a great flat skiff with a pilot's cabin in the