My son's jazz trio plays a monthly gig at Cafe Chianti in Beverly, the first Tuesday of each month. At the October gig, I was sitting with his relatively new girlfriend. We were soon joined by a former school mate of theirs, Kathy Svirsky, who had spent something like seven years in Alaska. During break, she began talking about the aurora and how sometimes it crackled. Immediately, I thought of this book and realized I just had to read it again. Until I had read this book many years ago, I didn't know that aurorae could sometimes make noise. I'd studied their physical chemistry and knew all about the excitation mechanisms of some of its features. such as the auroral green line
, but never knew about the sounds.
Anyway, to the book. On a night when the aurora was crackling overhead, somewhere up in the wild north of Canada, well north and west of Hudson's Bay, a young woman, Mélisse Cummins, lay dieing on her bed. She tells her husband, John, that she hears music. He says it's only the sound of the skies, i.e. the aurora. But as time goes on, a half starved boy, Jan Thoreau, perhaps 14, stumbles into their cabin, playing the violin, offering music for food. The woman dies at peace, the music having accompanied her soul to a better place, or something.
It turns out, there is a baby Mélisse. Jan stays with Cummins and helps him with his tasks around the Hudson's Bay Company outpost and helps to rear the baby Mélisse. But, Jan has a great secret. Mostly he can forget about it and live a glorious life in the great outdoors. But occasionally he is reminded of the roll of papers that lie hidden inside his violin, and his horrible secret haunts him.
Naturally as time goes on, Mélisse grows into a beautiful young woman and grows to love Jan, not just like a sister, but like a woman. This causes Jan great grief and he flees. His secret taint is so egregious, apparently, that he could never tell Mélisse about it lest she throw him over, or something. Eventually, we do learn of Jan's imagined taint. But, does said taint come between the potential lovers? Find out for yourselves.
This book is a romantic adventure in the northwest. I loved the parts about nature, auroras, the snows and the thaws in the spring, the trapping and hunting culture. It really speaks to my inner Eagle Scout. But, the book does have some particularly weird parts: overly romanticised views of women and the glories of their hair (Curwood had a Madonna complex and was a hair fetishist); some strange views of what "taints" blood lines; the natural inferiority of half-breeds, Indians and Francophones (although many of them do have good hearts); and of course, the somewhat creepy Humbert-Humbert-like romance that blossoms between Jan and Mélisse. But it's all about pure
womanhood, or something.
But despite the weirdnesses, I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this classic from the past.
FWIW, Amazon claims the book is a mere 157 pages long. That works out to 384 words/page (yup, I counted the words). In reality, a page of text in a properly typeset novel is more like 250–300 words/page. So in reality, this book should be listed as something closer to 200 pages or a bit more.