In The Widow Nash, an utterly beguiling tale by Jamie Harrison, it’s 1904, and Dulcy Remfrey leaves her old life on a train, barreling across the Montana prairie. The newspapers suggest Dulcy, mourning the death of her eccentric father, “flung herself from the train, to her certain death, her body lost to wolves on the prairie.”
Instead, she fakes her demise, and eventually takes a room at the Elite Hotel in Livingston, where she sets about reinventing herself as a wealthy young widow, Mrs. Nash.
But what drove Dulcy to such extreme measures? The daughter of a mining engineer, she has roamed the world with her erudite and syphilis-afflicted father, Walton, who is smitten with women and earthquakes, in equal measure. When he returns from a trip to Africa where he was dispatched to sell three gold mines, Walton is feverish, demented, and minus the millions of dollars in proceeds. His partner and Dulcy’s former fiancée summons her to Seattle to decipher her father’s silk-bound notebooks, with titles like “The Deep Yellow Book of Cures,” in hopes of discovering what he’s done with their fortune.
But it’s a fruitless search that ends when her father plunges from the hotel window to his death, leaving only the words, “boil me, burn me,” on the last page of each journal. His ruthless partner desperately wants to reclaim the money and Dulcy, who desperately wants to escape him.
What a gorgeous page-turner Harrison wrote, whether we’re seeing the world and its cataclysms through Walton’s cryptic journals, planting a lush garden in a wind-scoured town, or falling for an itinerant writer. “Sweeping and richly hued,” writes The New York Times.
It’s been awhile since I’ve read for 12 hours straight. And I’m not alone: The Widow Nash was The New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, Amazon’s Best of June Pick, and the Nancy Pearl/NPR Summer Reading Pick.
Harrison, the daughter of celebrated writer Jim Harrison, lives with her family in Livingston. She’s also written a series of mysteries: Blue Deer Thaw, Going Local, The Edge of the Crazies and An Unfortunate Prairie Occurrence.
– Kristi Niemeyer