Trigger warning: Rape/captivity
Helena Pelletier is just about as happy and at peace in her life as she can be. She has a loving husband, two daughters whom she loves, a jam making business and strong connection to nature and the world around her. In the first chapter or two, I was seriously envious, then the other shoe drops and we learn that Helena has been keeping secrets about her past. Now, due to her father escaping from prison (after fashioning a shiv out of toilet paper and toothpaste, say whaaaaaa???) not far from her house that her past is broken wide open. Helena knows that only she will be able to track and kill her father…because he’s the one who taught her everything that she knows. From there, we slip down the rabbit hole of memory with her and learn that she is the product of abduction and rape. Her mother was barely a teenager when she was taken by a man to live in the wilds of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Because her mother hid the truth from Helena for most of her life, Helena worshiped her father. She wanted to be a hunter/warrior just like him. She treated her mother with disdain when she fashioned a doll for her out of sticks and old clothes for Helena on her birthday because she had no use for it…instead she hung the doll up for bow practice. Even in her current life, she sometimes feels the need to “be herself” again, once leaving her husband with the kids for two weeks so that she could live in the wild, hunt bear and be free. It’s ironic that she felt the most free, when she was literally a captive and she knows this…so she tamps that part of herself down (usually), enjoying the simple craft of making jams out of wild fruits and berries as her mother taught her long ago. It’s this that got my attention, her father taught her just about everything one could possibly know about survival, hunting, fishing and many things that could be used for employment (I mean, that wasn’t his goal…but…). I kind of loved that in the end, she takes the skills that her mother taught her to create a livelihood for her family, this is no coincidence.
It’s the looking back on this that hurts Helena, she knows now that she sided with a monster. She understands that her mother was incredibly brave attempting to make things “normal” for a little girl who was pretty much a little girl herself. Helena’s mother’s most prized possession is a teen magazine she had with her when she was abducted, it was the only thing that she owned in the world. Helena looks down on her mother because she has to do all the “woman jobs” in the cabin which pretty much amount to just about everything except getting to troop off into the snow to go hunting and fishing. The shame Helena feels when the truth is revealed to her and she and her mother return from captivity (not a spoiler), are heightened when her father attempts to make contact with her…because she truly does love her father but also knows that she must hate him. Ironically, it’s the skills that her father hammered into her with endless days of brutal training that will perhaps help her right a wrong. She sends her husband and children away and begins to track her fugitive father who is already racking up a body count in his escape. It isn’t long before she’s on his trail but, is he playing the same cat and mouse tracking games that he did when she was little? Is she hunting him, or is he hunting her?
This book is pretty great. Between the chapters, Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Marsh King is interspersed. I thought it added a lot of depth to Helena’s story. This book is not a high octane thriller. This is really a book about Helena, and how her past doesn’t define her, but gives her the ability to rise above it.