In Calamity’s Wake by Natalee Caple

An Adult Fiction pick by Jean-Louis

calamity(Harper Collins, 2013)

This is not your standard account of a child whose mother is famous. Miette, child of Calamity Jane, promises her adoptive father on his deathbed that she will go in search of her mother. To seek out a woman who abandoned her at birth is not Miette’s idea but since she has made a pledge, she must live up to it. We are on the border of the Old West here, and a promise made to a dying man must be kept, especially if that good man raised you.

But to catch up with and discover the truth about Calamity Jane is no easy task for a grieving Miette (nor is it easy for our author). Calamity Jane was a real person who roamed the prairies alongside such other wild west figures as Wild Bill Hickock, Charlie Utter, Buffalo Bill Cody, Jesse James, and Geronimo. All of these characters existed in some fashion in the American West but have come down to us as fictional characters caught between reality and “show”.

The HBO series Deadwood shows the continuing attraction of that time in history. Whether they were drawn to the gold rush or to the wild west shows, the men and women who were drawn to these places tried to escape the mundane narratives of their lives and sought a more romantic existence. In Natalee Caple’s novel we are presented with many sides to this story as young Miette encounters numerous representations of Calamity Jane on her journey to re-unite with her.

The title of this novel is very apt as Caple also explores the effects of loss and abandonment throughout the novel. Young Miette is abandoned by her mother at birth, then faces the loss of her father. Calamity Jane too faces loss throughout her life–the deaths of her parents, siblings, and her lover Wild Bill are among those losses which bring her to her knees. How to swim in the wake that calamity can bring to a life is the theme of the novel. Who you might recognize in that wake is your task as reader. This novel will challenge you and test your understanding of the limits of women and men–be prepared for a wild ride!


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