A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain, by Adrianne Harun
Publisher: Penguin Books
272 pages, Kindle Edition
Published February 2014
Halfway through this atypical novel I immediately marked Harun’s short story collection as something to read. I ended up tearing through “A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain” in a single day between two sittings, and while I’m not convinced that this novel completely works, it still did impress me and evoked a desire to seek out more of Harun’s work, particularly short stories.
Though completed relatively fast, the material in this novel is dense and complex, requiring a certain amount of savor. Although you may be tempted to devour it at once, in retrospect it will probably be more meaningful to take in pieces that can be reflected upon. It is an odd beast in its format. Too long for a novella, but seemingly not a complete novel either. With a relatively large cast of characters and the blurred lines between reality and the fantastic there is a lot of material to cover, and not all of it will be suitably resolved to many readers’ satisfactions. With her previous recognized work in short stories it isn’t too big a surprise that this ‘novel’ thereby exists as more of an intimately joined collection of stories, not even separated by chapter-to-chapter, but within and throughout. The narrative meanders from the main plotline, inspired by actual disappearances of young First Nations girls on a relatively isolated stretch of Canadian highway, to side stories that fit the setting, themes, and style of the work, but could equally exist on their own. Each section thereby isn’t encountered with any necessarily obvious connection to the overall plot.
But you can be sure it will be beautifully written. Just as Harun shifts from plot progression to moments of isolated character introspection or folktale-like asides, so does her style shift from a more simple dialogue-driven narrative to rich poetic descriptions and a more open structure. Again, this could be an unwelcome distraction, it is ultimately hard to make the two styles, the two types of focus merge together into a coherent whole. The merging is most successful in that form of setting and of describing this eerie, chilling environment and situation. It is weakest, however, with the characters. Harun never seems to get a firm grasp on the majority of characters, some of whom seem important, only to vanish. As a result the reader also has a difficult time connecting to, or even following, the characters within the picture of the overall plot. You might get intimate snippets of them from segment to segment, but the tying of it all together fails.
Again, this likely stems from strengths in writing short stories as opposed to novels, or it may be exactly what Harun intends to do here. For me the reading experience could be described as intoxicating and intriguing, producing wonderful atmosphere and some fine writing to appreciate. But tying the plot and character engagement in its overall form never came together for me, leaving the experience strongly magical, lacking a practical physicality, like smelling scrumptious freshly baked cookies without getting that chance to chew, swallow, and feel fully sated.
But it has certainly left me hungry for more and to seek out something more filling in Harun’s other work.