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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Outlander, by Gil Adamson (trade, $14.99)

There were parts of The Outlander that reminded me of Cormac McCarthy, not so much the writing as the spare and bleak picture it paints of the turn of the last century, and the spare and bleak emotions of the characters who populate it.

Mary Boulton is seldom referred to by her given name; rather she is given the sobriquet of "The Widow." We learn right off that she is a widow because she killed her husband and is now being chased by her husband's brothers: hulking, strikingly odd-looking, single-minded twin avengers.

In short bursts, we learn The Widow came from a fairly refined, if somewhat dysfunctional, background, and would be a "least likely to" nominee to commit a murder. Gil Adamson, a Canadian writer, skillfully draws out the suspense of why The Widow murdered her husband. In the meantime, we learn about her determination and wild flight to survive.

The Widow is nearly feral when we meet her: Her hair is matted, her clothes are fetid, horses shy away from her, and she has clawed her way through dense forests in high mountains of the Canadian wilderness. She does not survive on sheer will alone, however; she is discovered and taken in by a mountain man. She gains strength during this interlude, but soon is again on the run, this time to a mining camp that provides the background for the rest of Mary's story.

The strength of Adamson's story is in her writing, which can be both tense and lush at the same time. She tells the story of pioneer life that The Little House on the Prairie left out. Her detailed descriptions are never burdensome, and don't get in the way of her unwavering and measured march towards the end of The Widow's story.

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