Finding the Daydreamer by Estella Kuchta

Finding the Daydreamer opens with Annabelle and her three-year-old daughter Katie on the run. It is nighttime.

Night blurs the edges of things, like cold and fear. Blankets and air. Thought and premonition. The ghosts of glaciers came down from the mountains. They drifted into the valley, rippling over the wild grass and fiddling with skeleton leaves in the moonlight.

She reaches for the comfort of her rifle, aware that grizzlies, black bears, moose, and cowboys all present a danger. She says, “… who can sleep with one hand on death?”
Annabelle says, “I’ve not started at the beginning. Time ties itself in knots. The middles of stories lead to beginnings. Beginnings loop through to ends. One can lose their way in remembering.”

The narrative returns to the events that preceded their flight. It is the Depression. Annabelle lives with her husband Hugh and daughter at an isolated ranch in the wilds of Cariboo country in central British Columbia. Ranch life is made harder by Hugh’s cold and threatening nature. But Annabelle is a dreamer, and “When the beef is tasteless, the feet are achy, and the ill mood of a husband sends a chill, [she] simply drift[s] away.” She allows herself to dream of a new life when there is an immediate and mutual attraction between her and a cowboy who comes to work on the ranch: “I’m like a moth moving toward some undetermined source of light. No plan. Just blindly drifting forward.”

Then she catches Hugh in a brutal act, and he attacks her. She tries to come to grip with the escalating situation, reflecting:

This is an old story. Its tattered pages lay scattered all across the country. Perhaps across all countries. Tucked under mattresses. Patched over ripped nightgowns. Folded like a bandage under a scarf where no one can see. This old story says truth doesn’t matter. In the wake of abuse, silence becomes the new language. Many are forced to speak it. This old story says there is no story. This old story says forgive and forget. Other women do it.

Annabelle knows she can’t do it. She and Katie must escape. Her romantic attraction seems validated when, in true Western fashion, the cowboy rides to the rescue. But Annabelle learns again that nothing is what it seems and that she must rely on her own instincts and abilities to save herself and Katie from Hugh who is urgently pursuing them. Suspense mounts as Annabelle encounters human and animal perils challenges from the land and her own frailties. When she encounters the Xat’sull – Shuswap people, she learns of the horror of residential school. One of the many pleasures of the book is Katie who is remarkably astute and verbal for someone so young.

Kuchta’s language is so lyrical, poetic and evocative that a reader might easily immerse in the simple enjoyment of her words. That, however, would do a disservice to the story as the author skillfully depicts the Cariboo – a place dear to my heart, life on a ranch, cattle drives, the struggle between dreams and reality, and the constraints placed on women by men.

Annabelle’s romantic nature leads to my only quibble with an ending that seems too easy and a little too perfect. That aside, Finding the Daydreamer is a highly enjoyable read.

Estella Kuchta is a writer, researcher, and postsecondary instructor in Vancouver. She also has the distinction of having lived on an isolated mountaintop for two years with no electricity while raising her infant son. Her creative writing and journalism projects have been published, aired, and broadcast in newspapers and literary magazines, and on radio and TV in Canada and the United States.

  • Publisher: Elm Books; 2020
  • ISBN: 9781941614-32-7
  • ISBN: 978-1941614327
  • Pages: 230

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About the Reviewer: Patricia Sandberg escaped a law career and became a writer. Her short stories have been shortlisted in competitions, published at The Cabinet of Heed and in the Lit Mag Love Anthology. She is hard at work on a World War I historical novel. Her 2016 award-winning, nonfiction book Sun Dogs and Yellowcake: Gunnar Mines, a Canadian Story is about life in a uranium mine in northern Canada during the height of the Cold War.