I said I was going to reread Mrs. Mike, but I think “reread” might have been the wrong word. For me, the experience is more like “re-living”. From the first paragraph I was transported straight into the head of the sixteen-year-old protagonist. This is the first time I’ve read this book since I started seriously writing and I respect and appreciate these authors more than ever before.
“The worst winter in fifty years, the old Scotsman had told me. I’d only been around for sixteen, but it was the worst I’d seen and I was willing to take his word for the other thirty-four.”
Isn’t this wonderful? Two sentences and I already know that the protagonist is sixteen, has been speaking to friendly strangers, and there is a problem with severe winter weather. We also get a glimpse of humor. I wonder how long it took the authors to craft that opening?
Agents and editors on the hunt for book submissions will often say, “Send me a synopsis and your first ten pages.” My youngest son, age 17, on the other hand, will read the blurb on the book cover and the first five pages before he decides whether he will take the book home with him. So I looked at this book through my version of his eyes. (I will never be a teenage boy, but I often learn a thing or two from him.)
In the first five pages of Mrs. Mike, we learn that Katherine Mary o’Fallon, age sixteen, in the year 1907, is being sent by her mother to the remote land of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to live with her uncle John, from her childhood home in Boston, MA. Her doctors recommended the move to a cold, dry climate on account of Katherine’s pleurisy. Her mother is worried about sending her so far alone, and sees her off with a reminder to always dress warm. A harsh winter storm makes it difficult for the train to travel undisrupted on the snow-covered tracks. In a basket, Kathy is smuggling a boarder collie puppy which her mother gave her. We get a glimpse of her personality by the things she scratches into the ice-glazed windows and her homesick memories after eighteen days of train journey and the realization that it won’t be over anytime soon.
The ability to convey this much (and more) in the first five pages of a book is a hard-earned skill. And really, I didn’t even notice it until after two hours of reading when I heard a clock chime and I looked up from the book. Wait, I thought, I wanted to pay attention to how the writers made this book so wonderful to me. How did I miss that? So I went back and reread parts of it, including the first five pages, forcing myself not to get so pulled along by the story that I couldn’t see the working mechanics of the book’s engine.
For a moment, I’m just going to experience the awe.
Well, that’s done. Back to reading. Kathy is about to attend a barn dance with the handsome Sergeant Michael Flannigan, of the Canadian Mounted Police. I love this part.