This Godforsaken Place
This literary debut novel comprises the account of 22-year-old Abigail Peacock, a British woman who had accompanied her father to remote Wabigoon in northwestern Ontario, following his dream of finding adventure.
Now, in 1885, with her father ailing, Abigail writes about her loneliness and despair as she’s forced to take up his post as a schoolteacher, her own hopes abandoned in favor of an unwanted life of survival in a shack on the frontier. Then, at the local storeowner’s suggestion, she buys a Winchester rifle – which, in classic western fashion, becomes her first step along the road to perdition. Her attempts to teach herself to shoot lead to her entanglements with a half-dead outlaw, a Pinkerton agent, a large amount of cash, and finally a daring adventure of her own.
Abigail’s brash, dryly humorous voice makes her an engaging heroine, a woman with the potential to be a colorful western character, if she’d only admit it. Her descriptions of the mostly unpopulated landscape are starkly beautiful. She muses frequently about the plight of Métis leaders Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, finding their stories fascinating after reading many newspaper accounts about them during her father’s illness. While educational, the frequent insertions of details on their lives feel puzzling, although they make more sense after one realizes that Dumont himself appears later on in the book. As for how Annie Oakley and a young man called Shea Wyatt get involved, that’s left for readers to find out.
There are really two separate novels here, an exciting western quest for justice and the somber tale of the Métis. Although they aren’t as well-integrated as they could be, Gault does an admirable job evoking the struggles to find one’s place in the rugged late 19th-century West.