All the Time in the World

My taste in reading material is wide and varied: SF/fantasy/"speculative fiction", mysteries (police procedurals, mostly), history, fanfic, straight fiction, smutty vampire books, biographies, poetry, cereal boxes, assembly instructions, the fine print, and your mind.

Mrs. Mike

Mrs. Mike - Benedict Freedman, Nancy Freedman This was a tough book to rate, and writing a review may be even tougher.

My four-star rating is largely weighted by my fond remembrance of having read it as a kid. We had a hardcover copy that may have been the original 1947 edition; it was probably "borrowed" from the home of one of our older relatives, and has long since disappeared. What really struck me, re-reading it 30+ years later, was how much of it had stayed with me, even down to the very words. "Oh be joyful, Mamotowatom."

What also struck me, reading this later edition, was the confirmation that (as I had always suspected) this was a true story. According to the notes in the Berkeley paperback, Benedict and Nancy Freeman met Katherine O'Fallon Flannigan, the real "Mrs. Mike", in California in the 1940s, when she would have been in her late 50s or early 60s, and were inspired to set down her story to share with others.

Mrs. Mike is the story of 16 year old Katherine, who in 1907 was sent from her home in Boston to live with her uncle John in Alberta, Canada, in hopes that the cold, dry climate would help with her chronic pleurisy. Shortly after arriving, she met, fell in love with and married Mountie Mike Flannigan, whose post was in remote and sparsely populated Hudson's Hope, British Columbia, nearly 1000 miles northwest of her uncle's home outside Calgary (they would later move to Grouard, about 300 miles north of Edmonton.) Mrs. Mike portrays an unimaginably harsh existence where many settlers raised multiple families, only to lose each them in successive waves of the kinds of devastating illnesses (like influenza and diptheria) immunization and other modern medical treatments have long since conquered. Its depiction of their subsistence living (through trapping, hunting, and cultivation of small gardens) is haunting, yet often beautiful.

My main frustration with the book, as an adult, is the horrible level of racism and sexism it contains. Repeated, often disparaging reference to "'breeds" (half-breeds, meaning people of mixed European and Native parentage), the casual treatment of violence against Indian women - I realize that it is probably depicted accurately, and that such attitudes were typical of the time, but while it's clear that Kathy spoke out against it and tried in individual cases to intervene, it's still difficult to read, and I hesitate to "recommend" it to others without that disclaimer.