Myths and monsters, human and otherwise, populate Shields’ (The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac, 2015, etc.) allegory about the scarifying effects of unheeded warnings.
Washington State in the 1940s. Awkward, unpopular, and misunderstood, Mildred Groves seeks escape from a stifling home in a tiny town. Moving from frying pan into unforeseen fire, she takes a job on a project at the top-secret Hanford Research Center as secretary to a high-level scientist. The deadly potential of the project gradually becomes apparent to Mildred, and she faces social challenges far more complex than those she encountered in her earlier constrained life. Mildred’s gift (or curse)—she can episodically see visions of the future—made her a pariah in her family and community and is not welcomed, or understood, by her new companions at Hanford. The uncalculated risks she takes as she unconsciously heeds the mythic creatures encountered during her visionary episodes result in harms almost too horrible to contemplate. Shields’ often lyrical account of Mildred’s travails provides not only a well-researched sense of place and time, but also a peek at the gung-ho attitudes which made the Manhattan project possible. The collateral damage unleashed by misogyny and unbridled nationalism is hard to calculate and presents in ways which take an immediate toll on Mildred and, she foresees, on the land and people seeking victory via the awful weapon being developed at Hanford. Rooted in the geography and culture of the communities Hanford displaced, Shields’ reworking of the classic myth—about a young woman whose warnings about a future she alone can see are ignored—is filled with grotesque and violent images and episodes of keening sorrow.
Shields delivers what her heroine cannot: a warning, impossible to ignore, about the costs of blind adherence to ideology.