1947. Paperback. 283 pages.
In 1907, 16-year-old Katherine Mary O’Fallon travels from Boston to live with her uncle in Calgary, Alberta. Soon after her arrival, she meets and falls in love with Sergeant Mike Flannigan, an officer in the Canadian Mounted Police. They marry and his job soon takes them to remote outposts in northern Canada. The novel is about Katherine’s relationship with her husband and it’s also about her relationship with the harsh country and the people who live there. Many of the people she meets are from First Nation tribes such as Dane-zaa (called Beaver in the book) and the Cree.
Mrs. Mike has a brisk pace, of the sort that I really like. Sometimes you want a novel that just moves. In storytelling style, I found it reminiscent of my experience reading Larry McMurtry’s amazing epic Lonesome Dove. Maybe I found them similar because they’re both frontier stories, but I think it’s also the particular liveliness that both books possess that also connected them in my mind. Mrs. Mike is the warmer of the two books, however, and less cynical in its depiction of people than Lonesome Dove.
The cover of my edition of Mrs. Mike touts it as a love story, and that description is true. But Mrs. Mike also has elements of horror as well. There are things that Kathy witnesses and experiences that are raw and terrible, and there are also horrifying stories that are told to her second-hand. One woman tells Kathy of her family’s tragic journey from France to Canada. While on the boat, the storyteller’s sister sickens and dies of the smallpox. The boat’s crew locks the family in their cabins and one by one the woman’s whole family dies of the disease, leaving her the only survivor. It’s an evocative scene, and chilling. But then, tales of epidemics have always left an impression on me.
Mrs. Mike is based on a real person who Nancy and Benedict Freedman met in California, but the veracity of some of the details in the book are apparently questionable. I approached it completely as fiction, however, and enjoyed it as such.
Mrs. Mike is perhaps old-fashioned in some ways, but a number of Kathy’s observations come through fresh and clear. It’s a book that surprised me too in the directions it took, but classic novels are often sneaky that way, taking your presuppositions of the era in which they were published and dashing them.
Excerpts from others’ reviews:
Becky’s Book Reviews – “I enjoyed the historical aspects of this one. I also liked the romance of it. It was a good, clean read. A book that almost anyone of any age could enjoy–if historical romance is their genre of choice.”
It’s All About the Book – “While I liked this book a lot, I think I would have liked it even more as a teenager. Not sure why exactly. I just think I would have been very much caught up in the adventure and romance, whereas now, perhaps I’ve read too much at this point and the book felt lacking in parts.”
Okay, also must add, I ran across a Goodreads review that panned the book and said each chapter could have been the basis for an episode of a cheesy Hallmark series. Now it’s been a while since I’ve seen a Hallmark show, but I am pretty sure Hallmark productions are not featuring plots full of bear-maulings, disease epidemics and dozens of people being burned alive in a wildfire. Like, what??