REVIEW: Mrs. Mike by Benedict Freedman and Nancy Freedman
Mrs. Mike’ is a love story, a true story; the story of Katherine Mary O’Fallon, a sixteen year-old Irish girl from Boston, and Sergeant Mike Flannigan of the Canadian Mounted Police who meet at her uncle’s ranch in Alberta, Canada where she is sent to recover from pleurisy. They meet, they court, they marry and, following Mike’s orders, move to Hudson’s Hope far into the interior of Alberta.
But it is more than a love story between two people: it is also a love story of the land and animals, of the beavers and the ice, the northern lights and the fires, of whooping cough and whiskey running. It is a love story of the First Peoples and their struggles, the immigrants and their hopes and all the people who came and went through Mike and Kathy’s lives.
Of course I’d heard of this book but up until now, I’d only made plans to – someday, I swear – read it. It’s one of those books that when the title is mentioned, loyal fans chime in about it, urging you to get a copy and fondly telling you why it’s so wonderful. I think I might have even bought myself a used paperback at one time though to find it among my TBR piles, stacks, bookshelves and boxes would be a miracle. Digital to the rescue.
So what can I add to a review about it? Well, let’s see. From the start I was charmed by Kathy, her wry sense of humor, her dog Juno and her determination. Sometimes that will get her into trouble but thank heavens, not once is it linked to her hair color. She’s young and acts it at times. She can be stubborn as well as independent – that last will also stand her in good stead over the years. In Sergeant Mike of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police she finds a rare love and when he says he’d work himself to death to make her happy, I believe it.
Of course it’s obvious from their first meeting that each is smitten with the other though Kathy holds out for a little while. Her age and their age difference gave me a little pause but then in 1907, those things wouldn’t have mattered as much. They not only loved each other, they loved the land, the people and the wildlife of the Canadian wilderness and Kathy loved Mike teaching her more each day about it.
There is hardship and not just in swarms of mosquitoes that could carry off baby moose, or sledding for weeks through winter temperatures that could freeze the air in your nostrils, or standing for hours in waist deep water to save yourself from a raging forest fire. There’s also violence and cruelty and racism and disease. If you’re an animal lover, avoid the second half of chapter three. If you have survived domestic abuse, well there’s going to be a lot to trigger you. If you’ve read about the recent settlement by the Canadian government for Indian victims of forced adoptions, well this book won’t make you feel any better about how Indians were treated.
Mike is tireless in his efforts on behalf of all the people for whom he is responsible but Kathy has a few moments of paternalism and “she knows best” with her civilized ways and notions. Thankfully this mostly falls by the wayside as she gets older and lives among the Cree longer. The diphtheria epidemic that sweeps the village is hard to read about though. And there’s one character who seems to have been born to sorrow with WWI and the 1918 flu epidemic being the final ones.
But there is great beauty as well with vivid pictures being painted for me of Alberta and its wildlife. There is understated humor in listening to Kathy’s Uncle John weave stories or deciding whether or not to let Mike take her to a dance. Mike and Kathy strike sparks on each other before giving wholeheartedly into their love and marriage and Kathy does mature enough to appreciate the strengths and hardships of her new home in comparison to “civilized” Boston.
I will be honest and say that some passages and scenes during the second half of the book got a mite tedious and I might have skimmed to the bottom of the page a time or three but count me in as an enthusiastic believer who will now say “Oh, you just have to read this book.” B