Monday, February 8, 2010

The Trade

The Trade, by Fred Stenson, is the first novel I've read in Amazon's Vine program (ARCs) that has already been published before.  My research indicates it was first published in the year 2000 in Canada and will now be available in a newly published version on April 1st, 2010.  It was a finalist in 2000 for Canada's "Giller" prize, a literary prize awarded to Canadian authors for novels or short story collections published the previous year.

This is the story of the Canadian fur trade between the years 1822 and 1848.  The Hudson Bay Company has merged with it's rival, The North West Company, and since the best fur trapping in eastern Canada has mostly tapped out, they are forced to look to the West, a largely unmapped region of Canada, mostly in present day Saskatchewan.  The Company sends out contingents of fur traders to the indigenous tribes of the area.  The story itself is told through the eyes of several people including John Rowand, a bitter Company man who was not chosen to lead an expedition, Ted Harriot, a clerk in the company, and Jimmy Jock Bird, who has made his life as a sort of middleman between the traders and the tribes.  The characters, particularly Harriot, has to live through some severe hardships, some dealing with the nature of the Company business such as long treks through bitter snow and ice but also in his personal life. 

But the real story here is about the evolutionary changes upon the land and among the various interacting societies.  The book is told in just a few long chapters, each dealing with a different theme.  For example, one chapter, called "The Missionary" deals with the issue of a Methodist missionary coming to teach the native population about his religion.  He is successful to some extent but not in the way he hopes.  I found the novel to be educational from many perspectives; afterall when I think fur trade and mountain men, I think western America.  The writing was well done and very much in the "literary" mold.  The characters were OK but to me they were a bit flat.  I understand they are true historical characters so perhaps the author wasn't as free to manuever them the way he might have liked to.  The result, though, was a definite feeling of realness, and not some contrived plot built for pure entertainment.

I've also completed the next short story in Jeffrey Archer's Cat O' Nine Tales collection.  "Know What I Mean" was very similar to others in the collection in that it is the story of a habitual criminal who tells his story to the author while in jail.  Only this time the criminal, a cigarette smuggler, doesn't get away with it.  In fact, in spite of some rather ingenious attempts, a sharp patrolman snags him three times in a row, resulting in a longer jail sentence each time.  But the silver lining is that during all of that jail time, his wife adapts and builds a legitimate company, allowing both to live a happy retirement. 

Next up: Grave Sight, by Charlene Harris.

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Top 10 Books in no particular order (Well Known Authors)

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  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
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  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
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