“A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain”
by Adrianne Harun
Penguin, 272 pp., $16
In an unnamed, dead-end British Columbia logging town, a small group of teenagers is balanced on the cusp of adulthood. They’re spending what may be their last summer together — that is, if at least a couple of them can escape to the outside world.
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That’s the setup for Port Townsend short-story writer Adrianne Harun’s auspicious debut novel, “A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain.” It’s an ingenious blend of desolation and a strange kind of hope, told in rich prose with more than a trace of myth and magical realism thrown in.
There’s not much to do in this economically depressed town except shoot rats down at the dump, eat bad food and hang out at the local convenience store. The friends also try their best to avoid a pack of violent local meth-heads who like to terrorize the town while cruising around in a bright-orange muscle car.
Most of the teens also pass the time linking up in various romances (or at least romantic fantasies). One works in the logging-camp kitchen and smuggles food out to feed a pair of nearly feral little kids who have to fend for themselves. (Mom and Dad are drug addicts.)
Most of all, the teens speculate on a terrifying mystery — the ongoing murders of young women, primarily Native Canadians, who have been disappearing from the side of the highway.
This aspect of the story is partly inspired by real-life crimes: a decades-long series of unsolved disappearances and murders along the Prince George-Prince Rupert route in central B.C. — a route that became known as the Highway of Tears.
But the bleak routine of the teens’ lives changes dramatically within a short period of time. The Devil, it seems, has come to town. Or maybe Devils, plural.
The Devil comes in several forms. Sometimes he is a stranger, like the seductive magician who takes up residence at a seedy motel, or the eerily beautiful and serene young woman who finds work in the logging camp. And some Devils are homegrown, like those thuggish meth-heads.
And, in what could be considered another form of deviltry, there’s the constant racial tension in town between the whites, the Native Canadians and the half-breeds (as Leo, one of the teens, calls himself).
Furthermore, the Devil figures in stories Leo hears from his beloved dying uncle: unsettling mythical tales that appear as short passages between the book’s chapters.
This volatile mix of characters and the book’s deeply atmospheric story are for the most part slow and measured, but a chilling climax brings it all together with one violent blow.
“A Man …” has its problems, primarily a tendency to drift into overheated prose and a too-crowded cast of secondary characters. Nonetheless, Harun’s confident voice is a pleasure to encounter.
Adam Woog’s column on crime and mystery fiction appears on the second Sunday of the month in The Seattle Times.