Courtney Collins The Untold

ISBN 13: 9780399167096

The Untold

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9780399167096: The Untold
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With shades of Water for Elephants and True Grit, a stunning debut novel set in the Australian outback about a female horse thief, her bid for freedom, and the two men trying to capture her.
It is 1921. In a mountain-locked valley, Jessie is on the run.
 

Born wild and brave, by twenty-six she has already lived life as a circus rider, horse and cattle rustler, and convict. But on this fateful night she is just a woman wanting to survive though there is barely any life left in her.
 

Two men crash through the bushland, desperate to claim the reward on her head: one her lover, the other the law.
 

But as it has always been for Jessie, it is death, not a man, who is her closest pursuer and companion. And while all odds are stacked against her, there is one who will never give up on her—her own child, who awaits her.

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About the Author:

Courtney Collins lives on the Goulburn River in regional Victoria, Australia. The Untold is her first novel, and she is currently at work on her second novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

If the dirt could speak, whose story would it tell? Would it

favor the ones who have knelt upon it, whose fingers have

split turning it over with their hands? Those who, in the

evening, would collapse weeping and bleeding into it as if the dirt

were their mother? Or would it favor those who seek to be far, far

from it, like birds screeching tearless through the sky?

This must be the longing of the dirt, for the ones who are suspended

in flight.

Down here I have come to know two things: birds fall down

and dirt can wait. Eventually, teeth and skin and twists of bone will

all be given up to it. And one day those who seek to be high up and

far from it will find themselves planted like a gnarly root in its

dark, tight soil. Just as I have.

This must be the lesson of the dirt.

Morning of my birth. My mother was digging. Soot-covered 

and bloody. If you could not see her, you would have surely smelt

her in this dark. I was trussed to her in a torn-up sheet. Rain and

wind scoured us from both sides, but she went on digging. Her

heart was in my ear. I pushed my face into the fan of her ribs and

tasted her. She tasted of rust and death.

In the wind, in the squall, I became an encumbrance. She set

me on the ground beside her horse. Cold on my back and wet, I

could see my breath breathe out. Beside me, her horse was sinking

into the mud. I watched him with one eye as he tried to recover his

hooves. I knew if he trod on me he would surely flatten my head

like a plate.

Morning of my birth, there were no stars in the sky. My mother

went on digging. A pile of dirt rose around her until it was just her

arms, her shoulders, her hair, sweeping in and out of the dark while

her horse coughed and whined above me.

When she finally arched herself out of the hole in the ground

she looked like the wrecked figurehead on a ship’s bow. Hopeful as

I was, I thought we might take off again, although I knew there

was no boat or raft to carry us, only Houdini, her spooked horse.

And from where we had come, there was no returning.

She stood above me, her hair willowy strips, the rain as heavy

as stones. Finally, she stooped to pick me up and I felt her hand

beneath my back. She brought me to her chest, kissed my muddied

head. Again, I pushed my face into the bony hollow of her chest

and breathed my mother in.

Morning of my birth, my mother buried me in a hole that

was two feet deep. Strong though she was, she was weak from my

birth, and as she dug, the wind filled the hole with leaves and

the rain collapsed it with mud so all that was left was a wet and

spindly bed.

When the sun inched awkwardly up she lowered me into the

grave. Then, lying prone on the earth, she stroked my head and

sang to me. I had never, in my short life, heard her sing. She sang

to me until the song got caught in her throat. Even as she bawled

and spluttered, her open hand covered my body like the warmest

blanket.

I had an instinct then to take her song and sing it back to her,

and I opened my mouth wide to make a sound, but instead of air

there was only fluid and as I gasped I felt my lungs fold in. In that

first light of morning my body contorted and I saw my own fingers

reaching up to her, desperate things.

She held them and I felt them still and I felt them collapse. And

then she said, Sh, sh, my darling. And then she slit my throat.

I should not have seen the sky turn pink or the day seep in.

I should not have seen my mother’s pale arms sweep out and heap

wet earth upon me or the screeching white birds fan out over her

head.

But I did.

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