Unleashed and Howling


It was night, and dogs came through the trees, unleashed and howling.

Much like the intriguing first line of Mike Allen’s “The Button Bin”, mentioned in a past post, the first line of Gil Adamson’s “The Outlander” flies out like the dogs she’s speaking of: unleashed and howling.  And then the novel continues in unfaltering prose to paint the life of Mary Boulton, a 19-year-old widow, in joyful and harrowing strokes.

In early 1900s rural Canada, Mary, suffering from postpartum depression and the loss of her infant child, comes unhinged, shooting the virtual stranger who is her uncaring, adulterous husband in the leg and letting him hemorrhage to death. Once on the run, her late husband’s brothers pursue her with cold rage across the early frontier wilderness.




Although this novel came out over ten years ago, it remains one of my favorites due to the sweeping, piercing prose. In the same vein as James Dickey (Deliverance) and Mike Allen, Ms. Adamson is a poet first and a novelist second.

In the beginning, Mary is fleeing, cold and lost, eventually on the verge of death. I haven’t often come across an author who can describe near-starvation with such subjective objectivity:

She shivered in her blighted cloth while phantom snow fell and the stars above reeled. …She felt nothing of her body except a complex of inflexible sinew across her back.

black and white

Carrie O’Grady had this to say in The Guardian:

Inevitably, there are echoes of Cormac McCarthy. Adamson’s writing is very different – richer, more rueful – but her novel shares that sense of troubled souls rattling around in a vast, hostile landscape, saying little yet feeling much.

The atmosphere reminded me a lot of The Revenant, which I’ve talked about before: not much happening, not much talking, but underneath, a vast and sumptuous inner life of emotions and unspoken comments existed, a luxuriant landscape where contemplation and imagination still reigned because all the crap we’re surrounded by today had yet to be invented.

Mary ends up in Frank, Alberta, the location of the worst landslide in North American history, where millions of tons of limestone peeled off  the eastern side of Turtle Mountain and slid into the valley, killing 70 to 90 of the inhabitants below.

The mountain itself seems symbolic of many things: the uncontrollable whims of the earth being the most transparent, but more subtle connections to immense, unknowable emotions, complex and tangled relationships, and even one’s own supposed purpose in being alive are hinted at in a constant background subtext.


Although I wasn’t overly fond of Mary being referred to as “the widow” for the whole novel,  I understand the impetus: women as nameless beings more or less walking in the shadow of society and certainly  of men. When Mary starts thinking of a man she met and connected with on many levels, it’s to say this:

As helpless as water to the pull of gravity, the window’s heart ran to William Moreland. Pooling there, wasted, unwanted…How foolish it was to let a man in, how terrible his power once you did.

As helpless as she feels, loving someone who abandoned her, she’s powerless to deny it, just as we all are finally powerless, in the larger scope, existing resolutely as we do in the shadow of the mountain–or fate, or destiny–but often made brave and strong for doing so.

I shivered on my couch as the phantom snow fell and the stars reeled,  fully immersed in a wild, raw life described in turns tenderly and brutally. Mary’s journey consumes one. In wondering where she’ll end up, you end up there with her.

red dawn

33 thoughts on “Unleashed and Howling

  1. Yes, your description of the material is vivid and palpable. “I shivered on my couch as the phantom snow fell and the stars reeled, fully immersed in a wild, raw life described in turns tenderly and brutally. Mary’s journey consumes one.” Really great.
    Unleashed and Howling sounds like a profound, emotional, poetic read–as is your outstanding review.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Weird things happening here in WP. I keep hitting reply under people but the first reply I made to the first person pops up instead of a blank box. Oh, well. Yeah, I know, I know. There’s no way I’ll ever read all the books on my list. It’s the impossible dream.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The Guardian newspaper said this about Gil Adamson’s “The Outlander” –
    ” Say the words “feminist western” and people may groan, confronted with images of Sharon Stone in chaps for The Quick and the Dead, or a rip-roarin’, yee-hawin’ Calamity Jane. But this is a serious, literary book that moves far beyond genre or gender stereotypes. It’s also hugely enjoyable – as the cowpokes might say, a rattling good yarn. The Outlander is that rare delight: a novel that is beautifully written yet as gripping as any airport page-turner.”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Feminist Western. They’ll come up with a term for anything! Sharon Stone didn’t seem like a feminist to me in The Quick and the Dead anyway. Just a rugged individual who was definitely out for extreme revenge. But yeah, nice little shout-out they gave to the book. It IS a rare delight.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have to admit to being at first a little disappointed this article wasn’t about me “Unleashed and Howling”.
    But after I heeded and took solace in your blog name I managed Laughter Over my Tears.
    So as I dried my eyes I found I was weeping once again reading this poor ladies unfortunate turn of events!
    Yeah I’m with you! Those words of near starvation are indeed raw.

    This is a great line too. “As helpless as water to the pull of gravity”

    Gosh this novel sounds real bleak however at the same time completely absorbing too.
    Mary sounds like a tough cookie for sure. And I do hope she gets some sort of recourse from somewhere!!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Well, weirdly, it WAS about you, Wolfman. Then I stopped and thought, “Wait a minute. I haven’t done enough research. What do I know about the stages of the moon or if it takes a scratch or a full bite for one to be transformed into a lycanthrope?”
    So I had to switch gears real fast and talk instead about poor Mary, starving in the forest, running from the landslide.
    Don’t worry–she does find recourse. I think this would actually make a really good movie, too. Then YOU could review it……..! When you got done changing, of course. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s very reassuring to know. Not much to know really. Change whilst screaming, become hairy and hungry. Order a few KFC bargain buckets as I’m too old to be bringing down cows nowadays. Drink my homebrew beer, watch a film, smash fingers into keypad with notes and ideas. Fall asleep and wake up a baldy man. Go to work then try to decode wolf notes on PC and repeat. Occasionally I fight a horde of zombies or such like to jazz it up.

      Mary’s story sounds like a perfect film for the Coen Brothers or Kelly Reichardt to make. Yep I’d be watching it for sure. I like to say I’d read it but I know I’d never get round to it. But hey maybe one day. Your ace review sure makes me wanna try, that for sure.. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What a better time to enjoy reading a book you like than today, with quarantine, and every other problem going on?
    Great review by the way.
    Best wishes, and stay safe. 🙂


  7. Thanks, Burning Heart. I appreciate it.
    And, yeah, I’ve been doing A LOT of reading.
    I was in the middle of reading your post earlier today, actually, and got interrupted by my better half, and now I’m at work. So…looking forward to finishing that, because your messages are always very uplifting and positive, even while you’re sometimes very stern, which is always useful to hammer it in.
    Thanks for dropping by. You stay safe too. 🙂


  8. Mmm. Cormac. I’ve often wished I was sitting in a bar drinking and glanced over and he was sitting next to me downing a glass of whisky. Hopefully I’d be able to say something more interesting than, “Omg, I love your work!”
    But The Outlander (which many a lady has probably mistaken for Outlander) could be a rival for McCarthy’s brilliance. I think. Worth the read, for sure!


  9. In Seattle, as in so many urban areas with nature not so far away, we are constantly reminded of mountains. I love to see Mt. Rainier to the south, the Olympics to the west, the Cascades to the east! That’s a lot of mountain energy. Most people, while in awe, don’t venture out to them. They aren’t that close after all, not an easy fit in an average person’s daily life. Still, many people do seek them out. Are they “privileged” devils, as our current extreme politics would have you believe? Well, not really. There was a time, before we further complicated things, when ultimately it came down to a person’s own desire to do something. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Go take a hike. Go climb a mountain. So, no, mountains, like learning how to swim, like camping, like becoming cultured and educated, like living a fulfilled life, are within the reach of anyone. I guess I’m in a ranting, or writing, mood! Time to go climb some kind of mountain.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Yeah, California is excellent for all those kinds of activities, Henry, available and free for the taking. It’s a nice respite from the daily grind. It’s good to surround oneself with only trees and birdsong once in a while. But it does sound like you need to go do “something”! You’re raring to go, lol !! You sound good; stay well!


  11. Holy crap! That is literally the last thing I was expecting ANYone to say today!
    What a great way to end the weekend. Thanks a lot, msjadeli! (btw, do you go by Jade?) 🙂


  12. I’m 100 pages in Stace and utterly consumed by the book. The poetry of the lost, is how I’m beginning to frame it. Definite hues of Cormac’s work, where she is unhinged, alone and starving. I worry so much about her. The ultimate test – turning the pages until your eyes ache and your clock says late – is passed again and again. It’s a great story.


    Liked by 1 person

  13. Ooh! I’m so happy you’re enjoying it. I hope it continues to pull you in, Kev. A pretty good western, like you say, in so many words. I think, if done right, it would make a good movie.

    Liked by 1 person

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