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.
14 thoughts on “A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain by Adrienne Harun”
This book escaped my radar as well, which surprises me since I’m usually pretty up to date on my Canadian stuff. I’m adding it to my list right now.
It was quite different from anything else I’ve read recently, and earns high marks just for that. The wonderful writing is just a bonus.
I love both the title and the cover of this book. I’m glad to hear it’s just as wonderful on the inside, as well.
I do worry I’m going to miss out on good books, which is one great reason to be a book blogger. I’m also finding a lot of older books out there that I’ve missed. And, sometimes reading a new book by an author will lead me to her older books that are just as good, but not as well known. Often the books I choose to read are the ones that grab me at the time, a combination of recommendations and mood/interest.
Me too! Although I must admit typing that title multiple times was a pain.
Book blogging is good and bad. It’s definitely caused me to realize I will never get to read everything I want, but it’s also helps to know I’m not the only one in that particular boat.
Man, I totally want to read this! I requested it a little late on NetGalley (because, like you said, it was getting kind of low-level attention) and it’s still just sitting in request purgatory. It sounds like one I’m going to have to add to my library requests though, I love strange little stories like this. Glad it ended up being a surprise for you, those are always the best!
I requested it early on Netgalley and they’ve left me in request purgatory as well. It’s just sitting there. The publicist was nice enough to offer me a copy after I included it on an “upcoming” list.
I’d definitely give this one a shot. It doesn’t seem to be getting much attention and that is unfortunate.
I’d been on the fence about this one, thinking it sounded lovely but doubting it was a ‘me’ book. Another one of my blogger friends just DNF’d this and you loved it so I’m no closer to deciding whether I should pick this up. 🙂 Lovely review though, as usual.
This one is sort of slow-paced and meandering, it has a great sense of foreboding and a dark, gothic feel. It’s pretty great. That does not mean it’s not without problems – the cast of characters is huge, there are a lot of story lines, and at times it is a bit confusing (purposefully so). That being said, most if it wraps up nicely and the confusion nicely foreshadows things without beating you over the head with clues. I liked it, but it might not be for everyone. I’m surprised someone DNF’d it though, it can be a bit slow, but it is so well written that it makes up for it (according to me, of course). It’s not a genre thriller, that’s for sure.
You had me at magical realism.
I was thinking about the question you posed at the end the other day. I’ve been a Vine reviewer (I know, I know) for several years and I used to be so much better about requesting lesser-known authors when I first started but have stepped way back on what I get because of how many of my own books I need to get through. I know I’m missing out.
I reserve a certain percentage of my books per year for debut authors. I like giving unknown writers a chance, it keeps a bit of mystery as to what I’m going to get.
(Plus it keeps me from reading things like AFiOS, which I did read, but mostly regret. I don’t think John Green is hurting for attention.)
Looking forward to this one (I think we’ve both mentioned this in the past). I have the galley, but time keeps escaping. Glad to read that you enjoyed it; that gives me more moment to read it sooner.
I can’t for the life of me remember which book it was that I saw this quote in “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” but I fully agree with it. I haven’t read this book, but I might request it from Penguin…