A Man Came out of a Door in the Mountain
By Adrianne Harun. Penguin Books, 256 pp, softcover
Adrianne Harun’s debut novel, A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain, is a modern-day exploration of good and evil set in an isolated rural community in northern British Columbia. The plot, gritty yet infused with mythology and folklore, follows a group of teenagers—Leo, Ursie, Bryan, Tessa, and Jackie—bound together by childhood friendship. The group, described by the narrator as “part Kitselas, part Haisla, part Polish and German”, hold an outsider status that leaves them spurned by both Caucasian and Native kids while they grapple with family issues of neglect, abuse, and addiction.
Harun is masterful at building atmospheric tension to the point of eruption. Our narrator, Leo, describes the group as brimming with “revenge, resentment—a kind of low-level heat that burned constantly within us, tamped down by the silence we knew would be our only protection until we couldn’t stand it anymore and the flames burst through”. In the same vein as Sheila Watson, Gail Anderson-Dargatz, and Eden Robinson, Harun—although an American author—maps British Columbia as gothic terrain with foreboding danger both supernatural and real.
From the Native legend of the devil’s companion, Snow Woman, whose appearance in the backcountry lures men to their death, to the town’s drug-dealing and ruthless bad boys, the Flackers and the Nagles, the characters sidestep peril together in a community shaken by the ongoing disappearance of Native women. Leo’s Uncle Lud, a terminally ill visionary, interrupts the primary narrative with tales (and warnings) of the devil hiding in plain sight, often in the form of an unexpected visitor. A dangerous and ultimately violent catalyst occurs when mysterious strangers Hana Swann and Keven Seven stroll into town and tempt the teenagers toward rebellion.
Harun’s fictional inclusion of missing Native women is a bold and controversial decision, considering how close to home the tragedies hit. The story was “sparked by outrage over the ongoing murders and disappearances of aboriginal women along Highway 16, the so-called Highway of Tears, in northern British Columbia”, Harun says in the acknowledgments. The book isn’t a whodunit, however, and the disappearances are far from sensationalized for cheap thrills. The horror here lies in the mystery, the absence of authority or aid, and the inevitability that these crimes will continue to occur without due action.