- STAFF PICKS
- GIFTS + GIFT CARDS
- SELL BOOKS
- FIND A STORE
This item may be
Check for Availability
The Fugitive Wife
Synopses & Reviews
A sweeping narrative, set in gold-prospecting Alaska, where ambition, adventure, and romance collide--and the usual rules are forgotten.
The year is 1900. Fleeing from a stormy marriage, Essie, a Midwestern farm girl, joins up with prospectors bound for Nome, where the golden sands teem with dreamers, schemers, and high rollers. Feisty and resourceful, Essie soon makes money caring for horses and delivering mail to the miners' beach diggings. Soon, too, Essie is drawn to Nate Deaton, the idealistic foreman of the Cape Nome Company. Nate's Eastern background is in direct contrast to Essie's down-to-earth Minnesota upbringing, but there is a deeper problem: Leonard, Essie's stubborn and volatile husband, is sure to come after her.
She had lived her life steered by the force of Leonard, against him. And when Leonard does travel north, astonishing scenes of pursuit, sacrifice, and crucial decision rise to a conclusion that is both surprising and inevitable.
Powerfully evoking a past world and the variable territory of the heart, this novel establishes Peter C. Brown as a consummate storyteller.
"The 1900 gold rush to Nome, Alaska, sweeps up Esther (Essie) Crummey, the resilient and pragmatic title character of this evocative historical novel, Brown's promising debut. A Minnesota farm girl, Essie marries a drifter named Leonard Crummey, a volatile man burdened by a painful past. They begin a life together on their own fledgling farm, but the birth of a deformed son, Gabriel, and the devastation of their farm by a flood turn Leonard into a 'hard husband.' His alcoholism and unilateral decision to sell much of their land corrodes their marriage. After further disaster, Essie leaves. Headed for her sister's in Seattle, Essie helps in a dockside accident on a Nome-bound ship, an intervention through which she meets Nate Deaton, the earnest, East Coast — educated young foreman for the Cape Nome Company. He hires her for the Nome venture, and mutual respect and conversation draw them together despite their varied backgrounds. But a beleaguered, die-hard Leonard follows his wife to Nome, where he threatens the budding devotion between Nate and Essie. This is an eloquent, memorable first novel, with high-powered characters whose prickly exteriors, created out of the need to survive, hide affectingly yearning and haunted souls." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Set in 1900 in the Alaskan gold-prospecting town of Nome and its environs, with flashbacks to the Midwestern prairies, 'The Fugitive Wife' is a novel dominated by landscapes. Even the clipped, laconic narrative is shaped by the unforgiving land it describes, as it mirrors the many voices of those engaged in early industrial enterprise in Alaska. This is a proto-capitalist world founded on stories,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) lucky chances, intrigue, exploration and, above all, the frantic making and losing of capital. Peter C. Brown's sure and often lyrical evocation of the wild Alaskan coast speaks not only of knowledge but also of love. His descriptions of both setting and human activity are historically convincing and at the same time integrated into a fast-paced narrative. Whether it be the bird life of the Alaskan tundra or the workings of an early 20th-century hydraulic dredge, we have here in 'The Fugitive Wife' an author who truly knows this world. Esther, the fugitive wife, is a young woman of astonishing resiliency, who combines her success at petty capitalism — ironic because she's the only one who isn't trying to make money — with the capacity to charm friends, captivate men and delight the reader. She is in every way admirable — perhaps just a shade too admirable at times — and she fully deserves the love of Nate, an educated East Coaster whose engineering abilities are stymied by his political naivete in the midst of this corrupt backwater of capitalism. Esther is also pursued — literally — by her less than satisfactory husband, Leonard. Two long flashbacks take us back to the prairie world where Leonard first erupted into Esther's life. Enslaved by drink, he brings into the thankless Eden of a Midwestern farm a large and repellent serpent whose part in the action is suitably horrifying but perhaps a little overly symbolic. Esther has every reason for her bold departure to Alaska, but the past is not to be so easily abandoned. Around these three central characters we have a wide canvas with more or less grotesque or flamboyant figures who contribute to the overall picture of a robust community in flux, driven by dreams of gold. Lena, who makes friends with Esther on the long train journey west, is a black woman who uses her education to get a clerical job in the boom town of Nome. Disappointingly, she fades out of the narrative, except insofar as her office provides a frequent refuge for Esther, who runs the stables and sets up a mail delivery service. Esther's relationships with her husband, Leonard, and with the idealistic Nate are both shaped by the lands where they happen. At the very moment Esther recognizes she is starting to love Nate, he is positioned as a solitary figure in a vast and unrelenting wilderness: 'The brow of the hill disappeared above him. He looked out over a rime of surf that whitened the coastline all the way to Nome and beyond and felt the splendid isolation, far above the ocean's roar, a world of rock and sky. Wheeling birds. Their cries, and the acrid stench.' Nate and Esther's lives in Alaska alternate between moments of mutual solitude, balanced precariously at the edge of an awe-inspiring, uninhabitable wilderness, and times of hectic engagement with the world of jumped claims, bust companies and fraudulent dealing. The rapid escalation of events here is irresistible. Readerly suspense is divided between the hope that all will be well for Esther and an equal but perhaps contrary longing that the author will not lose the delicate balance between tough realism and comforting sentiment. The conclusion of an engagingly complicated love story in a historical setting calls for some ingenuity, but Brown manages it with a little sleight of hand, a dawning realization in Esther's mind of what she must do to resolve her fugitive status. Margaret Elphinstone, who teaches at Strathclyde University, Glasgow, is the author, most recently, of 'Voyageurs.'" Reviewed by Margaret Elphinstone, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
Fleeing from a stormy marriage, Essie, a Midwestern farm girl, joins up with prospectors bound for Nome. Feisty and resourceful, Essie soon makes money caring for horses and delivering mail to the miners' beach diggings. Soon, too, Essie is drawn to Nate Deaton, the idealistic foreman of the Cape Nome Company.
What Our Readers Are Saying