The short description on the back of this book tells the reader right away what the premise is: that a young woman is fleeing from her brothers-in-law for the murder of her husband.
It is 1903, and the young widow’s flight takes her across the Canadian prairies, into small towns and mining settlements and across mountains. They pursue her relentlessly and she feels the urge to look over her shoulder constantly and is careful about telling strangers her proper name. Desperate and alone, she is also plagued by visions and voices and with the certainty that she is going mad, the widow nevertheless struggles to survive.
On her journey the she encounters an elderly woman whose sole purpose seems to be to take in the down on their luck. Further in her travels, the widow comes across a hermit who owns only what he absolutely needs to survive – he would put a minimalist to shame. The widow also meets a native, a minister and various other characters that make an imprint on her life.
This novel was one of five nominees for the 2009 Canada Reads competition. It didn’t win, but I can certainly understand why it was nominated. I had trouble at first believing that I would enjoy it – mild misgivings – I thought it sounded like a ‘western’. I guess it was that somewhat but also so much more.
It describes life in the early 20th century as rough, tiresome and often deadly. The author depicts some true-life catastrophes and the valiant effort of the people to overcome their hardships. The main character’s life was not romanticized and I got an honest taste of how life was lived during that era. It is interesting that the author referred to the young woman as ‘the widow’ for most of the book – her name was not mentioned until well into the story. It kept the character at a distance but also imparted the feeling she had for the desire of anonymity in the face of danger.
This novel is not one of my review books that I need to read and review – I picked it up because I was looking for something appropriate to suggest at my next book club meeting. I’m so happy I did. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will be recommending it as our next book pick.