Friday, June 06, 2014

Reader's Diary #1128- Benedict and Nancy Freedman: Mrs. Mike

My first awareness of Benedict and Nancy Freedman's Mrs. Mike came from the Canadian Book Challenge. Supposedly it was a classic but somehow had managed to fly completely under my radar. Apparently though it was never as popular on this side of the border as it had been in the US where it had been a bestseller and was turned into a movie. I finally broke down and bought a copy last summer when we drove to Alaska and came across this book in just about every tourist shop. It was almost as popular as Jack London novels. I had to see just why this book, set primarily in Alberta and with a love story involving a Mountie, had held the fascination of so many Americans.

I'm still not sure entirely why. Granted it does have strong American connections: the authors were both American and the story is loosely based on a real woman named Katherine Mary Flannigan who was originally from Boston.

The title reminded me of how much times have changed. I remember as a child when my mother would get mail addressed to Mrs. John Mutford (I'm named after my dad, by the way). And now that seems so old fashioned, to not only take the husband's last name, but first name as well. Old fashioned and strange! Like the wife became just a feminized version of the husband or something.

But the title certainly wasn't the only reminder that times have changed. There's also a lot of racism towards First Nations and Metis people in the book. Not that racism has gone away entirely, but I'd like to think it's decreased and that most people aren't as cavalier about it as they are in those days. Good ol' days, my ass.

For all that, it was a decently entertaining look back at a different time and place. It also had one of my favourite oxymorons I've come across in a very long time. Comparing Alberta at the time to a map of Boston with its lines, circles, and names, they write, "In Alberta there was none of this reassuring confusion." It seems almost paradoxical to think that confusion could be reassuring, but I know exactly the feeling they were going for.

I wish I'd liked Mike a little more though. Despite his name being on the cover, he's a pretty static character and the authors never really sold me on Katherine's attraction to him. He's vaguely patronizing and a bit of a know it all, and there's a scene when he goes to spank his daughter and Katherine covers her to protect her but ends up getting spanked herself. While Katherine seems wildly amused later when Mike says he didn't know he'd spanked the wrong person (nor, he adds, did he care), I found the whole scene rather ugly and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

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