This review was contributed by Nathan McNamara
A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain
Penguin Books, February 2014
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As many as forty young aboriginal women have gone missing since 1960 from the Highway of Tears in northern British Columbia. Many of them were found dead, and their murders and disappearances remain unsolved. This is the real-life context for Adrianne Harun’s first novel, A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain.
When the story opens, the murders have been going on for decades, but mostly on more distant sections of the long highway. Then the devil shows up in “our” unnamed mountain town, and he takes on many forms. There’s Hana Swann who mysteriously appears at the logging camp, and is bone-white, beautiful, and tougher than anyone; there’s Keven Seven, a magician who appears one night at the Peak and Pine Motel with his chillingly seductive charm. One character, Markus Nagle, encounters the devil as a vaguely remembered friend named Clark. Clark entices Markus away from his barstool and out into the street. Some amount of time later, Markus snaps to his senses. He’s on the dark, wet pavement, holding broken teeth in his bleeding hands.
Adrianne Harun uses multiple narrative techniques over the course of the novel. She comfortably shifts between first and third person perspectives, and alternating points-of-view, but the highlight of the novel is the series of clipped anecdotes about the different occasions when the devil has come to town. These short vignettes shine and unsettle in as little as two pages. In one, a door-to-door salesman sells gold-wrapped candies to lonely housewives. In another, a man in a suit helps a frightened mother take the twelve dresses for her twelve daughters down from a clothesline; the mother later finds the dresses patterned with cigarette burns.
At the end of one tale, a character named Uncle Lud says, “…a story has a solid form. You can hang your hat on a story.” Harun demonstrates her adherence to this ethos in almost every chapter. Many of the most impressive moments take place in compact scenes, where we observe confident, amiable devils engaging with their prey. The murders and disappearances along the Highway of Tears remain unsolved in this story, too, but by the end of the book, Harun has expertly conveyed the terror and danger that exists along this stretch of road.
The compelling indirectness of Harun’s title, A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain, conveys the sort of existential fright that hangs over this story. We don’t always know where the devil comes from, but there’s never any doubt when he arrives.
Nathan Scott McNamara is a graduate of the MFA program at Johns Hopkins University. His work has been published with Word Riot, The Hopkins Review, and The Carolina Quarterly.