I recently watched "Top of the Lake," Jane Campion's dark Australian miniseries starring Elisabeth Moss, the person I know only as "Peggy" from "Mad Men." It's a haunting crime drama about a backwater town overripe with secrets. All of it converges around a young girl's disappearancethe catalyst that sends Moss' character, a detective, back to her hometown to uncover layers of upsetting info about herself. If you were to transpose a lonely British Columbian town for the Outback, a teenaged boy for the detective and add many disappearances instead of one, you would have A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain.
Adrianne Harun's debut novel, the follow-up to her acclaimed story collection, The King of Limbo, touts itself as a horror mystery, and in fact contains all the trappings of the genre:
1) A cursed highway, dubbed the Highway of Tears, from which Native women are vanishing without a trace
2) A rogue's gallery of colorful characters seemingly yanked from an unaired season of "Twin Peaks"
3) An intricate scheme to murder a methdealerandhis cohorts
4) Possible incarnations of the devil, in the guise of the unlikely named Hana Swann with her "bone-white skin" and Kevin Seven, who performs fantastical legerdemain with playing cards; an apparition dubbed the Snow Woman
5) One dive motel, a seedy diner and spooky woods, among other locales
Yet A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain is anything but your standard someone-goes-missing tale. Even to call it a mystery is misleading. Harun's protagonist is a 17-year-old half-German, half-Kitselas boy named Leo Kreutzer, although the book gives about as much time to his four friends, each on the path to some kind of epiphany and/or self-destruction. There's Bryan, who decides to kill the local meth kingpin; Bryan's sister Ursie, who works at the P & P Motel, where men take out their rage on the rooms; Jackie, "stinking of sour milk and old gravy" from her shifts at the logging camp; and, finally, Tessa, Leo's superstitious love interest. Opening with the five of them shooting rats at a refuse station, the novel soon spirals into a surreal fairytale whirlwind when "the devil first arrived to meet usthe bunch of usin person." It appears to be a fable about disappearances, but it is more about people suddenly appearing out of nowhere.
Insofar as cohesiveness is concerned, A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain doesn't have it. Instead, Harun gives us a lyrical series of ominous folktales wrapped in small-town desperation and ennui, told through the lens of teenagers caught in mystical turmoil. An atmosphere of strangeness pervades every one of the author's scenes: The sudden arrival of Hana Swann, Kevin Seven and his magical cards and Leo's dying prophet Uncle Lud, telling tall-tales that just might be coming true before Leo's eyes. Each of Harun's people is fleshed out with maximum sureness and poetry, basking in the well-placed details of everyday life. A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain's narrative untidiness is exactly what makes it so unnerving. Often intense, now and then cryptically maddening, this is magical realism filled with a whole new breed of ready-made archetypes. It's rural noir meets Carl Jung, with a dash of physics thrown in for good measure.
Evil is the theme of A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain, but it's a modern, oblique kindan evil that drinks too much and drives around in pickup trucks in the middle of nowhere. While many situations and people evolve and fade rather randomlythe man who came out of a door in the mountain appears in one of Leo's uncle's tales, and then again toward the end, but has little to do with the central plotthe ones who linger are as bizarre as they are memorable. Interweaving the thrust of the story with brief, almost snarky interludes detailing the devil's doings, Harun's work is less cinema and more mural. The disappearances on Highway 16 are barely touched upon, but, as Leo Kreutzer says and as Harun explores throughout, "People go missing. That's not news, it turns out. It's how they get lost that's of interest." A dense and mythic coming-of-age allegory, equal parts fanciful and horrifying, it's a bad dream worth having.
Adrianne Harun reads from A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain at Shakespeare & Co. Tue., April 8, at 7 PM. Free.