Barr kicks the action into high gear in this prequel to her Anna Pigeon series. Having just left painful memories of love lost in New York, Anna relocates West as the newest hire of the National Park Service at Dangling Rope Marina in Utah’s Glen Canyon and its jewel, Lake Powell. The solitary Anna keeps her own counsel as she slowly heals from her devastating grief. Sharing an apartment with Jenny Gorman, Pigeon assists in testing bacteria in the lake, monitoring waste levels—not the most glamorous assignment, but one she does with quiet dignity.
When Anna fails to appear for a few days, the park crew assumes she has chosen to leave. Unfortunately for Anna, she is trapped in a “solution hole,” a deep natural pit from which there is no escape. Anna awakens in the hole, naked and terrified, unable to remember how she got there—unable to remember anything at all—with a bloody knot on her head. Plagued with unrelenting thirst, a panicked Anna notices a canteen in the dirt. She gulps greedily, only to realize the life-saving water is drugged. Now the real terror begins, the knowledge that she must drink to live, but to drink is to be vulnerable to whatever the “monster” wants to do to her while she is unconscious.
There are two scenarios: Anna’s life and death ordeal, and the activities of the crew at Dangling Rope, where married couple Regis and Bethy Candor engage in a dysfunctional relationship and Anna’s roommate ponders why Anna might have left, just as she was becoming intrigued by the somber New Yorker. Including the seasonal help, Gil and Dennis, none are aware that Anna is fighting for her life against a foe she cannot see, stripped of dignity and clothing under the glare of the sun.
In this starkly beautiful landscape where nature’s indifference is man’s challenge, park visitors break the rules with impunity, despoiling and littering, providing park personnel with numerous educational opportunities. Meanwhile, Anna gradually recalls witnessing a violent act and fleeing from the perpetrators before being knocked out and dumped into the solution hole. To make matters worse, she is not alone in the pit.
The fact that Anna actually escapes her nature-made prison is no cause for celebration but the beginning of a long nightmare: her monster has escaped, free to do more damage. Terrorized, wounded and violated in a most memorable and vicious manner, Anna is strengthened by her ordeal only to face the authorities’ suspicions of her accounting, more life-threatening situations, and a growing awareness that her monster is not far away—or finished with her: “Young and pretty or old and scrawny, monsters will be monsters.”
Filled with the harrowing details of Anna’s imprisonment, torture and escape, a budding friendship with her loyal roommate, the physical and mental challenges of working for the park service, and the unwanted attentions of Regis Candor (and his wife’s jealousy), nature is Barr’s vivid canvas but humanity her template, men made better and worse in the wilderness, Anna reborn with a commitment to her future. Barr’s writing is concise, driven and pulsing with menace, a taut plot delivering majestic scenes where mayhem is quickly erased by a landscape grander than the humans who scramble on its surface.