A Sudden Country

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In A Sudden Country, Karen Fisher transports her readers to the year 1847, when “Oregon fever” swept the settled portions of the United States, motivating hundred of families to leave their homes, pack their wagons, and set out on the trail to the Oregon frontier. One reason that this first novel is so convincing is that it is based on an account written by Emma Ruth Mitchell, the author's great-grandmother's grandmother, during her crossing to Oregon when she was just eleven.

However, the female protagonist of the novel is not Emma Ruth but her mother Lucy Mitchell, who unwillingly leaves a comfortable home in Iowa because her second husband, Israel Mitchell, is determined to go to Oregon. Lucy feels somewhat better after she meets James MacLaren, an experienced frontiersman and formerly a Hudson's Bay Company trader, and persuades him to lead what turns out to be a naive, impractical, and quarrelsome group of pioneers.

Lucy is not aware of the fact that MacLaren has his own agenda. When they come upon the Nez Perce, he hopes to reclaim his beloved Nez Perce wife and take his vengeance on the man who persuaded her to run away with him. To his surprise, however, MacLaren soon finds himself deeply in love with the intelligent, resolute Lucy, and she reciprocates his feelings. As their affair progresses, both Lucy and MacLaren discover not only the power of a consuming love but, finally, their own capacity for self-sacrifice.

A Sudden Country is an impressive achievement, as realistic in its depictions of the characters’ inner lives as it is in its description of their difficult journey.