The intertwined story of a cougar and a man that portrays the strength, vulnerability, and consciousness of two top predators. Not since Life of Pi have we encountered such transcendence or walked so fully in the footsteps of a big cat.
The “Old Woman” lives in the wild, searching for food, raising her cubs, and avoiding the two-legged creatures who come into her territory. But she is more than an animal — she is a mythic creature who haunts the lives and the dreams of men. Joseph Brandt has been captivated by the mountain lion’s legend since childhood, and one day he steps into the forest to seek her out. A classic in the making, The Hunter and the Old Woman is a mesmerizing portrait of two animals united by a shared destiny.
About the author
PAMELA KORGEMAGI is a graduate of York University’s creative writing program. The Hunter and the Old Woman is her debut novel. She lives and works in Toronto.
Excerpt: The Hunter and the Old Woman (by (author) Pamela Korgemagi)
The Cougar’s first memory was of meat. She and her sister had just begun to notice their mother’s absence when one day she returned clutching a leg of deer in her mouth, the flesh bright and bloody, the hoof smeared with mud. The Cougar and her sister sat in rapt silence as they watched their mother, paws clutching the disembodied leg as she stripped the meat from the bone, rasping it clean with her tongue, the white fur around her mouth becoming stained with blood.
It was not long after that they left their lair for the first time. The Cougar and her sister followed their mother along the lakeside, through tall grass. Molten clouds hung above the horizon where the sun had made its descent. A dampness crept into the air as darkness cooled the forest. The cubs stayed close to their mother as she led them through the shadowed trees.
The Cougar was amazed by her own ability to see into the dark, as if everything produced its own light. Aside from this distracting power of sight, she did not understand the many sounds coming from all around her. She tried to pinpoint a single source, but there was too much at once and she became afraid. The Cougar stopped and yowled, but her mother continued on, calling for her to come.
They followed a path worn into the forest floor, a sheer rock face at their side. The air was damp. Ahead she heard the sound of crickets. The rock came to an end and they were at the edge of a thicket of dense bush. The Cougar smelled it on the air, then she saw the deer on the ground, looking as if it had merely laid down to rest. She saw the set of antlers like branches sprouting from its head. Its body was enormous. The Cougar herself was barely the size of its rump. She believed her mother must possess great skill and cunning if she could convince such an animal to lay down its life for her.
But when the Cougar and her sister stood before the deer they saw the nature of its death; its head thrown back, its neck ripped open, shredded tubular matter glistening in the moonlight. The Cougar knew then it had not been as simple as commanding the deer to lie down. There was something dangerous about this exchange and she was struck with a sense of awe at the strength and mastery this would require.
Their mother stood waiting, watching into the trees as the cubs ate quietly, distracted by the sounds in the surrounding night, their ears twitching at every snap and skitter in the dark. It was difficult to apply focus in such chaos. But their mother stood by, unmoved. It seemed she was not afraid.
When the Cougar and her sister had eaten their fill, their mother began scraping up dirt and twigs to cover the deer. She retrieved a fallen branch from nearby, its dried leaves rattling as she dragged it over. The Cougar and her sister watched, taking note of this strange ritual. In the end, the deer was not completely covered, but it seemed the point was not to bury it, only to mark it as claimed.
They walked along the lakeshore on their way back to the lair, the half-moon reflected on the surface of the water. An owl hooted as the cougars passed. The Cougar’s Mother turned, looking toward the trees where the owl perched on a branch. The Cougar looked into the trees, trying to see the owl, but she could not find it. She was displeased that the owl could see her but she could not see it, that it would call out, alerting others to their presence, and she decided then that birds were not to her liking.
“The parallel fates of these fully drawn characters, The Hunter and The Old Woman, feel intimate and urgent.”
“The Old Woman of Pamela Korgemagi’s hypnotically gripping novel is a North American cougar, and its persona is a creative achievement unknown in literature. Korgemagi completely inhabits her alien protagonist, convincing us not what a cougar is like, but what it is like to be a cougar. The story’s Hunter is human, and his development from child to adult is revealed in step with the animal’s, until their lives finally intersect. It is a novel of rare empathy and insight that gives a convincing portrayal of lives spent in the wild — and what it is like to be alive with and without the familiar human awareness of self and time.” — Michael Redhill, Scotiabank Giller Prize–winning author of Bellevue Square