The Hunter and The Old Woman by Pamela Korgemagi

The Hunter and the Old Woman opens in a forest with a young, female cougar fighting to protect her cubs from a male cougar. In a nearby small town, an infant’s mother dies in childbirth. The baby is raised by an aunt until the father comes for him when he turns two. The lives of the cougar and the boy Joseph Brandt are divulged in parallel storylines.

The cougar does what cougars do. She hunts and mates and looks after her young. Pamela Korgemagi also gives her an almost human awareness that amplifies our connection to her. As the cougar watches her kittens sleeping:

She could hear their hearts fluttering like moths trapped inside their chests. The size of them sparked fear into her own heart. How small they were. How easy it would be to wipe them away, their grasp on life was that precarious. She was entirely devoted to them.

Curious and defiant, Joseph is a solitary creature who prefers exploring the forest to playing with other children. He is obsessed with the Old Woman (as the cougar comes to be called), who holds mythical status in the town, including seeming to live an exceptionally long time. Joseph’s father scoffs, “I was hearing stories about the Old Woman as soon as I came here. That’s almost twenty years ago now! Do you know how long a panther lives? Ten years. Maybe twelve. How do you explain that?”

People in the town see the natural world as a place to dominate. The forest is a “dark and cursed place” ruled over by the Old Woman. Joseph’s father wonders “if growing up surrounded by wilderness made a man feel as if he were custodian of his domain, and therefore could do with the forest as he pleased. Cut it back. Burn it. Waste it.” Even the boy’s surname ‘Brandt’ means to clear the land by fire.

When the cougar wantonly kills sheep at a neighbouring farm, the boy visits the site. He sees the cougar’s paw print stamped in blood in the barn. He puts his hand onto the print and feels a subtle fire, an electric current. He announces, “I’m going to hunt that old mountain lion.” He is eight years old. It is a desire that seems to have come from nowhere, that he cannot explain and yet believes in his heart only he can accomplish.

At one point, Joseph asks his father, “What’s so wrong with hunting panthers?” and his father replies, “What are you doing it for? If you can answer that, you can hunt a panther.” Joseph will answer his calling later when he sets off on a years-long quest and descent into his own heart of darkness.

Ms. Korgemagi is a skilled weaver of story and word master. Although this reader found the cougar’s hunting scenes to be too frequent, The Hunter and The Old Woman is an impressive debut novel.

PAMELA KORGEMAGI is a graduate of York University’s creative writing program. The Hunter and the Old Woman is her debut novel. She lives and works in Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ House of Anansi Press (Aug. 3 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 440 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487008252
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487008253
 -- Website

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.