No Other Word But Haunting
In A Dream of Wolves, Michael C. White brings us the story of Stuart Jordan, a 57-year-old transplanted Yankee OB-GYN living in the hills of North Carolina and working part-time as the county Medical Examiner. As the book opens, Dr. Jordan, called “Doc” by many characters throughout the book, is summoned by the Sheriff to go with him and investigate a murder scene.
When Doc and the Sheriff arrive at the scene, they find Roy Lee Pugh, one of the “Little Mexico Pughs who are real, honest to goodness mountain folk,” shot dead in the bedroom and his lover Rosa Littlefoot sitting on the sofa with their baby Maria. To the Sheriff, this is an open and shut case. To Doc, there are questions, such as why three shots were fired and only two shots hit the victim? Why didn’t Rosa just leave? Also, how did Rosa, tiny as she is, wrestle a shotgun away from hulking Roy Lee?
To complicate matters, as Rosa is arrested and taken to jail, she asks Doc to watch after her baby and not to let the Pughs have her. Doc obliges, but having a baby in his home brings back some sad and terrible memories with which he must come to terms.
Doc and his wife Annabel, who’ve been mostly separated for the past 15 years, had a son who died when he was six. The book spends almost 100 pages before it tells us exactly what happened, why Doc feels the way he does, and why Annabel left and mostly stays away.
All of this might sound like a bad rip-off of some afternoon soap opera or a made-for-TV murder mystery, but it’s not. The author’s touch with the places and the characters in the book makes it seem as if you’re living the story. This novel shows the people and places of the Appalachian Mountains in a way that few writers can. Of Doc’s first trip through the Blue Ridge, we read: “I’d driven through the mountains once or twice; I found their stark, rugged beauty alluring. They reminded me of Maine, only bluer, shrouded in a filmy haze that, except for a dryish autumn, never quite lifted.”
Mr. White depicts the people as they are, without a hint of condescension or judgment of those who choose to live in the mountains by their own rules. Doc acknowledges, “When I first came here, I’m embarrassed to admit that the extent of my knowledge of the Appalachian people was The Beverly Hillbillies and Li’l Abner.” However, after living in the mountains for several years, Doc has come to realize that “they weren’t all hillbillies. There’s the old monied sort who affect the genteel mannerisms of the deep plantation South, the ones who live in the elegant Victorian houses in Slade, the county seat.”
The touch of a gifted writer is also evident throughout the book in scenes involving Doc’s interactions with his patients, such as Sue Ellen MacCreadie, a 14-year-old who can’t wait to get rid of the child inside her and tries to overdose rather than have her baby, and Emmilou Potter, a dirt-poor lady who has for years been unable to carry full-term. Her husband Jack pays Doc with work, firewood or the occasional $20 bill.
The only real way to describe this book is haunting, much like William Faulkner’s classic story “A Rose For Emily.” When you finish this book, you might forget the “murder mystery” aspect or the love affair between Doc and the town assistant DA or some of the other plot points of the book, but you’ll carry with you the horror that Doc and Annabel shared. You’ll remember Doc’s emotions as he struggles to reconcile his love for Annabel with his loathing at what she has let herself become.
And you’ll run to the local bookstore or library to pick up another book by Michael C. White.