In Calamity's Wake is a well-researched historical fiction novel combining pleasurable reading with great depth. I loved this book and appreciated the grace and honesty with which it was written. It is a great story, but is worth reading simply for the beautiful prose. This meditation on being lost and belonging will pull your heartstrings as it paints a convincing picture of The Old West. The chapters are short, the reading easy, but the storytelling is fiercely inventive. Natalie Caple embeds history well into the narrative, such as when Edison used his x-ray machine to locate a bullet in President McKinley's stomach.
The book opens with a first person narrative by Miette. She heads for the Badlands of the American Northwest in search of her mother, Martha Canary (Infamous Calamity Jane). This is a deathbed wish by the bishop who raised her (her mother gave Miette to him after giving birth.) Miette's father, the bishop, teaches her great things--that Indians are not savage, but perhaps the Europeans were, that children are not immoral at birth, but possess great potential, that the poor are not to be looked down upon. The quest to find her mother is interrupted by chance encounters with crazy people and constantly tinged with longing for her father who just died.
Big-boned Martha (Calamity Jane) was six feet tall, strong and square. She could shoe a horse at age 8, ate only one orange in her life, and favored a gun given to her by Buffalo Bill. Always kind to her little brother, Elijah, her restlessness is evidenced by:
* Involvement in opium running and was a highwayman
* She was in and out of jail many times
* She put an ad in the newspaper to her estranged husband that she would scalp him alive if she saw him.
* She had a child (Miette) by Buffalo Bill, whom she could out- drink under the table.
By the same token, she was sensitive and caring. She could ride like the wind and loved horses. She carried a Chinese man down a mountain after a grizzly ripped off his face and took him to a doctor. She leaves her daughter, Miette, a letter telling her story so that her child would know the truth. Calamity Jane's letter to Miette is based on Jane's biography, as noted in the Author's notes.
An example of the beautiful prose: "There are points where time accordions. It is as if the past, the present and the future are pressed together in a concertina, every minute toughing and then every minute open to be viewed."
Bravo to Natalee Caple for her stunning debut novel, In Calamity's Wake.
Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont