For the past 45 years, young women—mostly First Nations—have disappeared along Highway 16 in British Columbia. Some were found murdered, others were never seen again. This tragic road, called the Highway of Tears, is the inspiration for Port Townsend writer Adrianne Harun’s hypnotic new novel, A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain (Penguin; $16). Rejecting a sensationalist approach, Harun chooses instead to craft a tale that feels both gothic and folkloric, in a setting that is tangibly Pacific Northwest—with dark green forests always looming at the periphery.
How did the Highway of Tears inspire your novel? Disappearances and murders continue along the highway. I don’t usually write from such a clear desire, but even from this distance, I’ve been heartsick. All I can do is write, but I’m not a journalist…and I cringed at the idea of co-opting a real family’s tragedy. And then one day driving along the highway, I began thinking about where evil comes from, and the ridiculous thought “Maybe it just comes out of a door in the mountain” popped up. Later, I remembered a story my Irish grandmother told me about a man who came out of the hills in Donegal and set men to gambling and fighting until all was destroyed. He was the devil, clearly. Evil is unfathomable, and as Leo says in the novel, “It would be the worst kind of bullshit romanticizing” to simply pin the ongoing deaths in British Columbia on the influence of the devil. At the same time, it’s clear he walks among us. So, I guess you could say, the devil inspired the story, in spite of himself.
The character Uncle Lud spins spooky legends about the devil throughout. Where did these come from? Made ’em all up. Originally, the novel was even thicker with tales. But as much as I loved them, the extra tales slowed down the story, and I had to cut them out. I still grieve the loss of one, “The Lake and the Spoon,” but perhaps it will surface somewhere else in my work.
Could you have set this story elsewhere? The setting is crucial to this story and the way I’ve chosen to tell it. There’s the connection to B.C.’s Highway 16…but I also feel the great loneliness of the landscape carries the uncanny within it or maybe a sense of the sublime: beauty so incomprehensible and vast that being within it conjures up something akin to terror.
What’s next? The next story collection is called Lost in the War of the Beautiful Lads. A few are ghost stories of a sort. Others are about more obvious absences. I think it’s kind of funny in places, but, of course, I think that about all my stories and am often astonished to hear that people find them…well…dark. I’m also working on another novel, which has much to do with exploring abandoned places, and a little to do with The Great War and a Northwest fisherman.
Hear Adrianne Harun read from A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain at Eagle Harbor Books on Bainbridge Island (March 6, 6:30 p.m.) and Elliott Bay Books in Seattle (March 11, 7 p.m.). For more readings, visit adrianneharun.com.