Ridgerunner by Gil Adamson

Author Gil Adamson has returned to the literary scene with Ridgerunner, a sequel to her debut award-winning novel The Outlander. William Moreland, the character who captured the heart of Mary Boulton, says in The Outlander:

"There is a poster up on the wall about me. They call me the Ridgerunner, which is a good name, since they could as easily call me ‘that bastard.’ I am a pain in their necks and they can’t wait to get rid of me."

It seems Moreland’s old ways haven’t changed as Ridgerunner opens in 1917 in the southern Rocky Mountains of British Columbia and Alberta. Mary is dead but her presence lingers. Unable to look after their young son Jack and earn money by legitimate means, Moreland leaves the boy in the care of a former nun so he can garner enough funds to support the child. Continuing his old patterns, he engages in thievery and is soon on the run. While waiting for a meal, he reflects:

"He was not a soldier come back from war, not a park ranger, not any sort of a good man. In fact, to his own astonishment, he had firm plans to become even worse."

The son Jack is a mix of bravery and the bravado of youth. He is also perceptive. His father had once told him that if he was afraid of doing something, that he was then obliged to do it.

"The kid had … immediately understood the trick of it. If you are not afraid, you’ll do it anyway, because why not. If you are afraid, you’re obligated to overcome your fear. So there was only one choice: do it."

The former nun is a terrifying portrait of twisted love and psychosis as she manipulates Moreland and then the son to achieve her goals.

The house had spent another night alight and heated, and its sole occupant was ablaze, too.

"When the water was ready she set his clothes on his breakfast chair and filled the washtub. Soap flakes came out of the box waxy and they clung to her hand, so she plunged her fist into the stinging water and swished them off, staring down into that milky liquid, the unseen hand shrieking until it went numb and the indignation in her chest abated a little. Pain helped."

This literary novel is set in the Canadian wild west but gives new life to the western genre. Its tension is more slow boil than explosive. The characters are rugged and warped, and some manage to be endearing. They have their own sense of honour and levels of self-awareness and understanding. Their suffering–and there’s lots of it–is so excruciatingly portrayed, it feels personal, but love in all its complexity is at the root of everything.

The one constant in the book is the harsh landscape of the southern Rockies which affects much of the plot:

"… a town may spring up and grow where none was before, a road maybe diverted, bridges rot and fall into the river. But a mountain will always look the same, and the canyon at its foot will not move; the land is as unchanging as the stars, and just as useful for navigation."

And change is coming. The story is set in the last days of World War I and the aftermath of the devastating Frank Slide. Railways and roadwork are breaching the wilderness and transforming the town of Banff; even the individualism of the characters is challenged.

See also  The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed

I loved every word in this book, and it is back on my pile of books to reread. Ridgerunner is the winner of the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

GIL ADAMSON is the critically acclaimed author of Ridgerunner, which won the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and was named a best book of the year by the Globe and Mail and the CBC. Her first novel, The Outlander, won the Dashiell Hammett Prize for Literary Excellence in Crime Writing, the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, the ReLit Award, and the Drummer General’s Award. It was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, CBC Canada Reads, and the Prix Femina in France; longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; and chosen as a Globe and Mail and Washington Post Top 100 Book. She is also the author of a collection of linked stories, Help Me, Jacques Cousteau, and two poetry collections, Primitive and Ashland. She lives in Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ House of Anansi Press; Reprint edition (May 12 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 456 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 148700656X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487006563

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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.

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