Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. So they say.
But the devil is alive and well in northwestern Vancouver. And there’s more than one. There’s neglect, poverty, and abuse. There’s chosen ignorance, meth, and moonshine. There is the tyrannical drug dealer and his violent enforcers, the meth manufacturer and the rowdy loggers. And there’s a mysterious musician, or maybe he’s a card player, and the beautiful new waitress at the local diner. She seems so fragile and so fair.
In an isolated town in rural Vancouver logging country, five friends – Leo, Tessa, Bryan, Ursie, and Jackie – are seemingly untouched by the frequent disappearances of Native girls along the highway that runs through town. As strangers begin to infiltrate the town, like beautiful Hana Swann and enigmatic Keven Seven and mysterious Clark, the friends are drawn in to a new world. Within the group of teenagers, all half-white and half-First Nation, there is an undercurrent of tribal magic – Ursie, especially, is quite gifted. Myth and magic swirl around the town, while Leo’s dying Uncle Lud tries to impart the wisdom of stories. As Lud’s legends unfold and the newcomers infiltrate the town, will the group be able to overcome the destruction outsiders leave in their wake?
Partially inspired by, though not based on, the Highway of Tears, Adrienne Harun’s debut novel A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain is absolutely wonderful. It’s deeply atmospheric, realistically gritty, with a hint of magical realism. The novel weaves together folklore, physics, poetry, and love. “I scrolled through screens, flipped pages, lost again and again, until I began to wonder if Disappointment was a scalar or a vector quantity; is Direction could make a human heart go bad; if the Acceleration Equation could illuminate all the ways to avoid disappearing. And in the notebook (mostly blank) that my mother liked to shuffle through, I sketched my first full equation, the first that made fractional sense to me at least:
Average acceleration = velocity + desire / time + wasted dreams = vf– vi + d / t/wd1
The equation looked so right, like the first true thought I’d ever had…”
The landscape is as beautifully depicted as it is tragic – a hot and humid summer set against the destroyed (through poverty, drugs, and logging) terrain. Woven into the novel are short stories (local folklore) and character vignettes – Harun is obviously a very gifted short story writer and it shows here:
“A man came out of a door in the mountain and journeyed downward, through the maze of trees and brush, though slurries of gravel and timber graveyards, grayed to ash. If passerby noticed him, a single fellow paused on the wrong side, the sloping untraveled edge of the highway, they would not have had a moment’s wonder at first. He was an ordinary looking fellow of a reasonable height and slight build in unremarkable clothes. So nondescript, he simply disappeared against the landscape as if he were another scrub tree. Only later, deep in their sleep might the nagging image return: a figure on the far side of the highway waiting. A sober man, no car in sight, no thumb outstretched, eyeing the town below as if he owned it and was on his way to collect rent.”
A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain surprised me. The book was barely made blip on my radar. Honestly, I had forgotten about it until the publicist contacted me and asked if I was still interested in it (after I was turned down digitally). I was, of course, and gratefully agreed to review* it. I’m so happy I did. It is not a book that’s received a lot of publicity, yet it is a brilliant, evocative debut. Readers across genres will easily be able to find something to love within the novel, whether it’s the lovely prose, the folklore, the mysticism, or even simply the coming of age story. This one’s not to be missed, give it a chance if you think you might like it. 5/5.
Do you ever worry that you’ll miss out on a brilliant book because it’s overshadowed by the latest J. K. Rowling news? Or pushed aside by another brilliant author who only has to publish once a decade? I do, it’s one of the primary reasons I blog, to make sure I’m not missing out books like A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain. And to make sure you don’t either. So how do you choose the books you a going to read? Blogs? NYTBR? Pretty covers? Trusted friends? Honestly, I’m a mix of all of those.
After a particularly visceral first outing with the mysterious Hana, Leo returns home for lunch, where his mother has made his a sandwich. Pair this one with a tuna, sliced diagonally of course. I use this recipe from The Healthy Foodie.
*In the interest of full disclosure, I did receive a copy of the novel in exchange for my honest opinion.