Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain

A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain by Adrianne Harun
Penguin Books: 2/25/2014
Trade Paperback, 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9780670786107

In isolated British Columbia, girls, mostly native, are vanishing from the sides of a notorious highway. Leo Kreutzer and his four friends are barely touched by these disappearances—until a series of mysterious and troublesome outsiders come to town. Then it seems as if the devil himself has appeared among them.
In this intoxicatingly lush debut novel, Adrianne Harun weaves together folklore, mythology, and elements of magical realism to create a compelling and unsettling portrait of life in a dead-end town. A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain is atmospheric and evocative of place and a group of people, much in the way that Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones conjures the South, or Charles Bock's Beautiful Children provides a glimpse of the Las Vegas underworld: kids left to fend for themselves in a broken world—rendered with grit and poetry in equal measure.

My Thoughts:  

A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain by Adrianne Harun is a gratifying, atmospheric debut novel that is highly recommended.

"That wasn’t the first summer girls went missing off the Highway, not the first time a family lost its dearest member to untraceable evil, but it was the first time someone I loved was among that number—spirited away, it seemed, although I knew better." Leo Kreutzer is the narrator in Harun's novel about five friends, all seventeen, who meet the devil in earthly forms during one hot dry summer in a small British Columbia logging town. Girls have been going missing along the highway for years but during this summer the five friends may actually meet the prince of lies and his handmaiden.

"The five of us—Jackie; Bryan; Bryan’s sister, Ursie; Tessa; and me—had been oddball friends since swaddling days, and as soon as we started school, that friendship had been cemented. Part Kitselas, part Haisla, part Polish and German, Ursie, Bryan, and me fit with neither the white nor the Indian kids, who spurned us in different ways. But Jackie, who held her whole generous nation in her blood, adopted us..." (Location 106)

While the five friends try to find a diversion from their bleak lives by shooting at the town dump together, they know their lives are rife with prejudice, poverty, drug abuse, and alcoholism. They were hardly prepared for the mysterious arrival in town and in their lives of Hana Swann and Kevin Seven, and the evil they set into motion. Although it could be easily argued that evil was already in their town with the violent drug dealing Nagel brothers and Gerald Flacker. 

"Revenge, resentment—a kind of low-level heat that burned constantly within us, tamped down by the silence we knew would be our only protection until we couldn’t stand it anymore and the flames burst through. We had seen that happen to others and wondered when it would happen to us, break us wide open so that we would be set free or singed beyond repair. Jackie would be the first, the rest of us were sure. She was tough and stoic, but beneath it, her sense of fairness was acute, and her pain at every injustice became harder and harder to hide."(Location 156)

While telling the story of that fateful summer, Leo also shares folk stories his dying uncle Jud has told him, which he has written down in notebooks. His uncle's stories are central to the plot and illustrate/illuminate the narrative, giving the action a sense of timelessness as old as evil itself. But everyone has a story, as Leo's tale unfolds we know this, only as Leo points out, "Almost everybody who shows up here has a story, usually embellished and smoothed out. That’s one big difference right off between those who arrive and those who live here. Our own stories were unedited—sprawling and unpretty—and nothing could clip and shape and redefine them as long as we stayed here." (Location 199)

We know that something bad is going to happen, as Leo foreshadows, "I guess we both must have known then that trouble was not on its way; it was already here. Although how could we have known how many forms that trouble would take?"(Location 358) And that is the crux of the question: exactly what form is the evil going to take and who is going to be harmed?

A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain is poetic and full of magic realism along with supernatural stories and a mythology of its own. All these elements intertwine and weave together to form a truly memorable debut novel. The title is taken from one of the stories told to Leo by Uncle Jud.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Penguin Books via Netgalley for review purposes.

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