Turning Fact into Great Fiction | Review of “In Calamity’s Wake” by Natalee Caple (2013) HarperCollins

There is a certain beauty created when a collection of facts is taken and made into a work of fiction. Yes, the dates and places need to be included but to be able to understand the emotions of the characters involved and then to craft all that information into a narrative is a wonderful gift to have. And Natalee Caple has proved she has that gift with her novel In Calamity’s Wake.

Page 1

I came to the Badlands because I was told that my mother, a woman named Martha Canary, lived there. It was the man of God who acted all my life as my father who told me this. When it was time for him to die he made me promise that I would go and find her. I squeezed his hands and laid my cheek against his. His breaths and mine were staggered together, very, very weak for different reasons. I said yes because I don’t cry and I loved him and in that last hour we were together I would have promised him anything.

You have to do it, he said. Promise me you will not change your mind. I know you’ve heard sickening things and those things are all true but I’m sure she wants to know you.

 

Caple has brilliantly brought to life the story of Calamity Jane by telling it through the eyes of Jane’s daughter Miette. We are given an honest story here of the “Old West” as we follow the journey of Miette in fulfilling her promise to her adopted father as she learns that the hard-drinking and exhibition shooter legend she thought as her mother was a misunderstood person and very much loved.

Page 49-50

Riding through Wyoming, into a remote mining camp, she found miners beaten and starving, their food, their horses and their equipment stolen by road agents, and themselves left with boots to figure a long trek over stony land to help. She rode to a grocery store ten miles away. She told the owner that men were dying and she needed help. He was intractable, arms folded over a big belly framed by suspenders. On the counter she saw a novel, placed down open-faced. She smiled.

Do you know who I am?

He looked at her and looked down at the book’s cover and he looked back at the guns strapped to her body.

Who am I? she asked.

She returned to the camp with food and blankets.

The storeowner became famous for being robbed by the Heroine of Whoop-Up.

 

There is a lyrical quality to this book that makes it a pleasure to read. Caple stops the journey of the narrative to give us great descriptions that a reader can almost feel.

Page 153-154

It was not quite dawn when I woke and began to walk. My feet clove the sandy earth. My hat had begun to smell and so I tied it upside down on my head with some twine to let the sun bake out the soggy bell of it. An intermittent breeze shook the tree branches overhead loosing sprays of dew. Birds shook their wings. As the clouds retreated, rising higher in the sky and becoming white, the sun lit up the new  spaces of blue. I stared up imaging red kites with tails that whipped behind. I could feel the burning tug of the cord on my finger. My father laughing, tucked his robes into his pants so that he could run with me. The wind in my ears.

 

In Calamity’s Wake by Natalee Caple is a lyrical and smooth work of historical fiction. It has a great sense of history and is filled with vivid descriptions that is a pleasure to read.

Link to Natalee Caple’s website

Link to HarperCollins Canada page for In Calamity’s Wake

 

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