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A vivid and revelatory novel based on actual events of the 1847 Oregon migration A Sudden Country follows two characters of remarkable complexity and strength in a journey of survival and redemptionJames MacLaren once a resourceful and ambitious Hudson’s Bay Company trader has renounced his aspirations for a uiet family life in the Bitterroot wilderness Yet his life is overturned in the winter of 1846 when his Nez Perce wife deserts him and his children die of smallpox In the grip of a profound sorrow MacLaren whose home once spanned a continent sets out to find his wife But an act of secret vengeance changes his course introducing him to a different wife and mother Lucy Mitchell journeying westward with her familyLucy a remarried widow careful mother and reluctant emigrant is drawn at once to the self possessed MacLaren Convinced that he is the key to her family’s safe passage she persuades her husband to employ him As their hidden stories and obsessions unfold and pasts and cultures collide both Lucy and MacLaren must confront the people they have truly been are and may becomeAlive with incident and insight presenting with rare scope and intimacy the complex relations among nineteenth century traders immigrants and Native Americans A Sudden Country is above all a heroic and unforgettable story of love and loss sacrifice and understanding From the Hardcover edition

10 thoughts on “A Sudden Country

  1. says:

    I am through and through a Westerner This fabulous novel captures the grandeur and ferocity of the West's landscapes and reminds us of the courage and pain western migration called for in both women and men A SUDDEN COUNTRY is a love story a physical journey from the civilized East to Oregon and a meditation on placeHere are a few pertinent sentences from the bookOn the naming of western placesSuch disordering of a place so perfect after its own truthin the name of making some imperfect and impoverished version of another? Did this world so need improving?On undertaking an 1847 journey westLucy stood there thinking how little point there seemed in any past so far away and how little point there seemed in talking of the future over which they had not the least control toiling as they were toward something she could scarcely imagineOn loveHe wanted to tell her love was a cheat All hopes all desires were nothing but pitiful inventions born of our own ignorance and sorrow The things we sought were never there when we arrived or never stayed Love was not the last eternal benedictionOn sorrowShe said'There's jagged times Till hurt wears off'I could go on and on This is a wonderful book that seeped into my pores and won't let me go

  2. says:

    Loved and HATED this one Don't do it Don't do it DON'T OK nevermind Go ahead See if I carereviewFirst let me just say that A SUDDEN COUNTRY is the author's first novel and was a PENFaulkner Award finalist SeriouslyA couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I was reading this book and it was making me crabby Now I've finished In fact I finished the novel uite uickly as I raced to the end to see how the two main story lines would resolve More on those in a momentFirst a bit on why the book annoyed me so much as I read it I called it Madame Bovary on the Oregon Trail and it's helpful to note that I didn't have a blast reading Flaubert's masterpiece either I spent the first half of A Sudden Country talking aloud to the female main character Lucy Don't do it don't do it don't do it You idiot You'll ruin everything Seriously don't do it Fine do it Die if you want; lose your children whatever See if I careThe characters in the novel are nuanced and flawed I mean really flawed And that's good and all but it's hard to like any of them Hard life hard people occasionally making stupid choices possibly just because they can So rarely do they have significant choices to make AnywaySentence fragments I was annoyed by them throughout But my least favorite thing about the writing was my friend Jeanne's favorite part so it's obviously a matter of taste Jeanne loved the way the story unfolded slowly with a sense of mystery It drove me crazy I thought the vague dreamlike and occasionally misleading language drew attention to itself and took me out of the story I spent the first few chapters doing math trying to figure out how Lucy and Israel had all these kids when they'd only been married 4 years then guessing which kids came from which previous marriagesReviewers on were split between loving the writing style sentence fragments partial explanations imagery rich details short on clarity and hating having to read certain sections than once to figure out what was going on I found myself somewhere in the middle Sometimes the style worked for me sometimes it annoyed me The author's comment on this issue this novel took over ten years and most of it was written very late at night by a tired person So if you find it dreamlike and hypnotic that’s probably why I advise reading it under the same circumstancesI get that Enough with the criticism alreadyOne of the greatest strengths of the novel is the amount of historical detail the author includes effortlessly I'm not usually a huge fan of reading history and reuire massive doses of personal narrative to make the lessons go down To this day almost everything I know about ancient Egypt came from a children's novel my mom brought to distract me when I was home sick But at times in A Sudden Country I found the historical anecdotes daily life on the Oregon Trail compelling than story The author did a really really good job with her research and with writing it into the story in such a way that it was enjoyable rather than pedantic or distractingAnd then there's the story arc itself I love the ending though I know many people hated it I think Lucy's story arc ended just perfectly Everything was not wrapped up in a neat little bow but her life never really was particularly tidy unlike her home or her campsite The other main point of view character and story arc dropped Something was building building building I was excited to see how it came out and then poof Done over kaput without ever reaching a conclusion Without ever reaching a confrontation a destination anything It just failed This frustrated me Doesn't it break all the rules to cut off the story like that without any sort of resolution? But the distance I have from the book the happier I am with the author's choice to handle the story the way she didI read a book club version of the novel and it included an interview with the author as well as a reader's guide bound into the paperback You know how sometimes there's one tiny thing someone says or does that jumps out at you and bothers you so much it colors everything else you know about them and their work? Tom Cruise's religion Orson Scott Card's politics David Hasselhoff's habit of wearing his shirts unbuttoned There were two of these such moments in the author interview and they nearly spoiled the whole reading experience for me Now that I've done a bit research I suspect that either the author's tone didn't come across perfectly in the interview or it was edited unsympathetically Note this interview is much humble and likable IMOThe road to publication was as rough believe me as the journey I was writing about I would have laughed at that line at a writer's workshop but not so much immediately after finishing an engrossing and emotional read Really? Your search for an agent endangered the lives of your children every day? You had to leave behind every thing you held most dear? Sheesh I know it's hard to get published but that's a little RumpelstiltskinThis review is far too critical I'm so glad I read this book I think you should read it too It's very good And educational Wait Stop I mean that in a good way

  3. says:

    I wonder why I ever care that a book is a finalist for a book award I wonder why I am swayed by the positive reviews posted inside or on the back of a book I need to stick to word of mouth for most award winning books these days are dark gloomy and too explicit There was a cloud hanging over my head when I read this book I hardly made it to the end I wasn't reading so thoroughly during the last thirty pages and the ending was lame This book was well researched and at times written beautifully but I had to spend too much time keep track of present and past Moreover I didn't like the characters very much Lucy chose one flawed dysfunctional man to be her lover She wished for romance to cope with her life and I suppose she found it She hated having to live the pioneer life and leave her home just because her second husband dreamed of living in Oregon This book definitely made me glad to live in the 21st century The author was all over the place and it was confusing I was aching for her to tell it like it was because I didn't have the energy or the interest to read between the lines It was often written like poetry and it went overboard for me I only gave it two stars because I recognize the effort and research she put into the book It wasn't a good book for me No thanks

  4. says:

    engrossed in this fierce and poetic landscape for the last few days i put down the book with a feeling of gratitude and awe toward author karen fisher for having the grace and skill to put all this into words to the real characters who long ago wandered our taken for granted west with such bravery and despair and tenacity either blindly or with maddening precision and with such wildly varied motives and hopes and histories ALL the characters of this land and all the for somehow enduring the cheap stereotypes that fling themselves at the most disturbing of realities i love this book for its broadness of scope and its inclusiveness for pondering the greatest of mysteries against one of the most mysterious settings rendered by human endeavor i love this book for never over simplifying for its raw humanity and deep commitment to love it reminds me of why i love to read; this is everything i look for in a novel words stories blooming like sage across the strange and mystic desert landscape of life itself

  5. says:

    This is a book where the style got in the way of the story Many have compared this to Cold Mountain which I haven't read I found it to be like a cut rate Cormac McCarthy All the Pretty Horses than Blood Meridian I at first found the story to be difficult then I was intrigued and now about 23rds of the way through it I'm bored of it and couldn't care less what happens to any of the characters To sum it up bored wife falls for brooding stranger on the Oregon Trail A lot of the propaganda about the book describe it as 'graceful' Clunky would be a better word

  6. says:

    I believe that Karen Fisher did a terrific job of providing a first hand look into the American wilderness of 150 years ago I appreciated the language that Fisher used for its historic accuracy though I had to re read some passages and really think about what was meant by them The story also is filled with a gritty crude simplicity that I loved I recommend this book highly

  7. says:

    Based on the girlhood journal of her ancestor Emma Ruth Ross Karen Fisher recreates her family’s migration from Iowa to Oregon in 1847 Her story focuses on Emma’s mother Lucy Mitchell and the mysterious James MacLaren who joins their party as a driver This description while accurate cannot even begin to describe the many facets of Fisher’s complex western A Sudden Country While it is certainly a western it is not the stereotypical novel of the American West and actually fits with several western subgenresLibrarians should remember when assisting western readers that “story lines derive from the entire westward movement in North America beginning in the early nineteenth century and continued into the twentieth century to the Far West of the United States” not just “the cowboy of the 1865 1890 ranchlands” Herald 16 A Sudden Country falls into the Wagons West Early Settlement category 18 9 and typical of this category it presents “the greatest diversity of characters including women” 18 The stressed farm wife Lucy Mitchell is part of a trend toward larger roles for women in westerns 28 9 as she is one of two main characters but the book eually focuses on the long haired former Hudson Bay Company trader James MacLaren who serves as the “competent self reliant and self sufficient” hero 16 Wagons West Early Settlement stories also give an opportunity for a wide variety of adventures on the trail with the culmination of the journey in setting up a new home 18 In A Sudden Country the Mitchell group encounters Indians experience climate changes as they cross the country deal with sudden climate changes and disease and learn a whole new way of life on the trail where there are simply no stores and the travelers must make due with what they have brought in their wagons or find along the trail The frankness in dealing with hardships on the trail also identifies this book with The West Unromanticized novels coming into vogue where none of the gritty details of western life are neglected 31However at least for me the focus of the book was the short but intense relationship between Lucy and MacLaren Both have been struggling since the loss of their respective spouses and what starts as a simple diversion from the pain each has been carrying uickly turns into a full blown relationship with Lucy seriously considering leaving her family behind to be with MacLaren While romances tend to play a secondary role in westerns 17 this love story competed with and at timesovershadowed the collected themes associated with traveling west While I found the romance exciting and an essential part o fthe bigger story Clare Davis of the Washington Post felt that was the weakest part of the story and she was much interested in the realistic depiction of life on the Oregon Trail While I agree that Fisher portrayed wagon train society accurately and interestingly I felt that Lucy and MacLaren’s relationship was an integral part strangely enough of the grieving process allowing both to finally put their past spouses behind them and begin to accept the current state of their lives The intense nature of their relationship also deeply impressed the emotional toll such a trip took on its passengers Davis also seems to miss how resentful Lucy ahs become toward Isrel Mitchell her current husband which is why we're not surprised when seh instantly falls for their mysterious driver The only compliment Davis can give Fisher’s portrayal of their relationship is that she does not follow the typical romance ending While a part of me would have preferred to see Lucy and MacLaren ride off into the sunset I understand that such an ending would not have fit with the realistic tone of the book Running away with MacLaren may have been easy in the heat of the moment but Lucy ultimately realizes that she cannot leave her children behind and in the process learns that once she stops resenting Israel for not being her first husband he turns out to be a pretty good second husbandWhen recommending A Sudden Country to patrons I would not necessarily target teh typical wester reader While the traditional wester is almost too easy to read it took me a few chapters to get comfortable with Fisher’s abstract style Even though I grew to love it I know that some readers prefer a straight forward narrative I would also warn patrons about the fairly graphic sex scenes The descriptions aren’t uite as explicit as a Sweet And Savage novel but they would still offend patrons who don’t want to know any of the “mechanics” surrounding sexual encountersI would however strongly recommend this book Fisher has tried to be as historically accurate as possible using not only her ancestor’s journal but researching the Oregon Trail in 1847 and the party her ancestor’s rode with uite extensively making this book a learning experience as well I also found the story complex and very compelling which doesn't make for an easy read but instead gave me a lot to think about For readers not scared of by an intellectually and emotionally stimulating book or interested in a historically accurate fictionalization of life on the Oregon Trail this is definitely a book worth checking outSourcesDavis Clare “Book World” Washington Post Reprinted on com Fisher Karen A Sudden Country New York Random House 2005Herald Diana Tixier “Chapter 2 Westerns” Genreflecting A Guide to Reading Interests in Genre Fiction 4th ed Englewood Col Libraries Unlimited 1995 16 38

  8. says:

    A well traveled book in my family from my aunt in Seattle to my mother and on to me this novel recounts a much arduous and life changing journey as it traces a group of settlers taking the long overland trek in covered wagons to new land and perhaps new riches in Oregon from the east coast Based very loosely on old family letters Fisher writes in an alternating first person narrative of a widow named Lucy Mitchell now rewed in a stale loveless marriage taking the reluctant trek across country that her husband wants and a trapper Mr McLaren who was once an employee of the Hudson Bay Company which incidentally has featured now in two novels that I recently read and whose financial policital and mildly military presence on the frontier I was somehow unaware of Three days into their journey leaving from St Louis Lucy and her family experience tragedy when the driver they hired died when a wagon overturned in a storm at which point Mr McLaren agrees to become their new driver Lucy initially firmly rooted albeit in a loveless marriage experiences an unsettling of all she knows as she becomes a transient travelling across the country Previously simple comforts taken for granted become a daily struggle as food and water become scarce McLaren for his part begins the novel unfounded floundering on grief from the death of his native american wife and three children from smallpox McLaren addicted to laudanum and to a lesser extent alcohol grows into a deeper largely healed but still reluctant character under the love that Lucy feels for him Written in prose that is eual measures short and poetic Fisher does a thorough job of de romanticising the at times beaucolic interpretation found in history books and on canvas paintings of what this overland journey was really like Characters are developed fully and their background stories particularly McLarens are spun out with slow measure as deliberately as their wagons cross the plains

  9. says:

    The constantly switching view point between characters did not seem to add to the book instead it seemed to hinder and hold back the story It was an artifice that didn't seem to serve the story Also the long delirium scenes during the episode of smallpox and then repeated again with the measles showed me the author was thoroughly exploring the travails of time It seemed intended to inflict an understanding of disease upon the reader then really illustrate the character or the story movement The supposedly erotic passion worked when the characters were distanced from each other but the portrayal of the affair was so carefully g rated it might almost have been better to follow a classic fade to black and let the reader imagine it Boy I realize I've really thrashed this book I did read the entire thing I was interested in her portrayal of history and places so I hung with it for that Glimpses into the Hudson Bay Company and race relations on the frontier were really interesting and rather than have all the races be fastidiously separated she marched right in with exposing frontier ghettos of mixed families shunned by the whites accepted by the nativesI can't recommend this book unless you have an interest the Oregon Trail In that case you might find it interesting

  10. says:

    I loved the prose of this book I am not a fan of poetry and flowery writing and this book tested me in that area I wanted to re read each line because you just get the sense that the author deliberated about each and every word she used If I had a pen I think i would have underlined at least one sentence per page An intense psychological sketch of two main characters and how they deal with love grief dreams and hardship Set in 1847 during the Oregon trail migration My pleasure in the book was only heightened when I came to the end and read the author's note that one of the characters is an ancestor to the author and that the book is loosely based on a letter that her ancestor wrote when she was 11 years old