This captivating story opens with a 19-year-old widow running for her life through the woods of western Canada, sometime in the early 20th century. “The widow,” as she is called throughout most of the book, is Mary Boulton, who killed her husband and is being sought by his twin brothers, who are big, burly, and mean men set on revenge.
Her full story is revealed over the course of the novel through her encounters with other outlaws and social and political misfits. A shy child whose mother died from a drawn-out illness, Mary yearns to be loved but is ignored by her grieving father and pious grandmother. When John Boulton appears at a party, clearly seeking a wife, she is drawn to him as a fellow outsider; with only this in common they are married, and she moves with him to his shack deep in the forest. John is abusive and a liar, furthering Mary’s sense of being unloved. She feels she is slowly going mad, and indeed it is impossible to tell at times what is really happening and what is a hallucination.
Adamson successfully uses this technique to reveal much of Mary’s inner self and back story, combining background on the stifling and absurd treatment of women at the time with the reality and dangers of backwoods life. When Mary stops running, she finds herself in a tiny mining town with more than its share of misfits, from the minister to the apothecary to the occasional visitor. Here, finally, her story can turn to one of growth and redemption rather than instinct and fear.
In her first novel, Adamson has created a marvelously readable tale with memorable characters and an inspiring final narrative twist, all of which makes me look forward to her future work.