The evening lights from the windows had been filtered through rain clouds off the Pacific and was casting a shadowy grey wash over the small office.
–Thomas Eidson - Hannah's Gift - c.1998
Tucker Gibbons, lawman, is in pursuit of some criminals. He has been tracking them for months, ever since they raped and murdered his neighbours. It is his last fugitive hunt. After he finds them and takes them into custody he is determined to commit suicide. His wife and child have died and he does not want to live on without them. But he cannot let these murderers go free, so one last job and then he is done.
He catches up to them in a small town in Texas, but they knew he was coming, and he ends up surprised by them.
Believing he should have been killed in that trap he instead finds himself being tended by a strange woman, Hannah Morgan. And then she leaves.
I’ve had this book on my shelf, along with St. Agnes’ Stand for a long while now, but until now I’ve never read anything by Eidson before. He was recommended to me way back when I was in secondary school by a teacher. It’s taken me quite a while to follow that recommendation up. But I’m glad I did.
Because this is not my usual sort of book at all. I like well told westerns, although I don’t read very many, and this definitely has that aspect to it. It is a story very much set in the old frontier of the US. There are skirmishes with Apaches, and deserts, one horse towns and lawmen isolated from any sort of backup. There are plenty of prejudices to be seen. No Mexicans No Indians being a common one.
But the story of Tucker and Hannah is framed by the story of Father Richard Mulcahy. A friend of his, another priest, Roberto Cordova, has recently committed suicide and Mulcahy believes that the manuscript telling the story of Tucker Gibbons has some bearing on why Cordova chose to take his own life. Cordova has always believed the story that Gibbons’ wrote was a true one. Mulcahy never read it all, but he is about to now.
Because at the heart of Tucker and Hannah’s story is faith, religion, and belief.
Hannah’s Gift may market itself as a western, but it has distinct elements of a religious book to it. And that is the part I usually would never read.
You see, I love fantasy fiction and science fiction, all that sort of magic and miracles is great. I have a great lack of belief, however, in that sort of thing actually being real. I just don’t believe it. And so when stories weave it in to an otherwise “realistic” story it can make my more cynical side sit up and say that’s all just religious hand-wavery-nonsense. Especially if I think the author is trying to write some sort of moralistic, religious message into their tale.
If it is just part of the story and interested in raising questions and bringing up spirituality and what it is that people believe, well, that’s grand. I just don’t like being preached to1 . Hannah’s Gift never takes that route, it is not a preachy book in the least. That isn’t to say it is perfect but it is well written, it is very easy to read and to sink into the atmosphere of the book. And the question of who Hannah is and what exactly it is that she is doing is an intriguing one, even if you aren’t a believer.
I may not have loved this novel, but I think I will be reading more by Eidson.
see also my dislike of Sherri S Tepper’s <a href="http://www.susanhatedliterature.net/2009/10/the-fresco/">The Fresco</a> ↩