If the dirt could speak, what story would it tell?
Courtney Collins’ debut novel, The Untold, traces the experience of twenty-six year old Jessie as she runs into the Australian bush, attempting to escape the crimes that follow her. The cover copy sets the reader up for a romp through a semi-Western landscape and I must admit that I expected an Australian Cormac McCarthy when I first began The Untold. After the first chapter, I knew I’d been wrong in my assumption.
Collins has created something much more singular and magical than a standard historical revision. (The novel is very loosely based off of the life of 1920s bushwoman Jessie Hickman.) Her choice of narration stands apart from the physicality of the story, and this choice turns Jessie’s journey through the harsh landscape into a softened meditation on life and death in hard times. At moments, the novel loses itself in the beauty of its own language and region, and in the dreamy otherworld quality of its narration. But the novel refocuses and the reader finds themselves once again among the soil and mountains and cold, clear rivers of the Australian bush.
Perhaps the most surprising development of this story comes in the form of mother and child. I finished The Untold with an unshakeable sense of maternal connection. Behind the mask of historical Australian western, Collins’ story captures the distance and weight of love between a mother and her child. The weight never lessens and the distance counts itself into the psyche with each step.
You’ll have to discover for yourself what I mean. That’s the magic of The Untold—discovering something new among what you thought you recognized.
The Untold by Courtney Collins (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam | 9780399167096 | May 29, 2014)