Set in the late 19th century, The Last Crossing
, Guy Vanderhaeghe's first novel since his acclaimed Englishman's Boy
, is the story of three well-off English brothers: twins Simon and Charles Gaunt and their elder sibling, Addington, a former soldier and an arrogant scoundrel. At the behest of their dictatorial father, Charles and Addington travel the prairies of the U.S. and Canada in search of sensitive Simon, who has disappeared. Much of the novel concerns their journeys--bottles of port and claret rattling in their wagons--through Indian country with a cast of intricately drawn, fully realized characters. The small troupe is led through the whiskey-coloured light by Jerry Potts, a half-breed with one foot firmly in each world. The heart of the plot involves the love that Charles, a painter, feels for Lucy Stoveall, a simple but lovely country woman who accompanies them, secretly intent on avenging her sister's murder. However, the most intriguing character in this marvelous collection of all-too-human personalities is Custis Straw, a Bible-reading, heavy-drinking Civil War veteran who hides his tremendous dignity behind a bumbling facade, and who also loves Lucy.
Vanderhaeghe's rich language reveals a genuine feel for the prairies and their rough settlements: "a boom town draws rogues like a jam jar draws wasps," he writes, and describes "miles of wet plain patched with apple green, new penny copper, glints of silver." Though this is a Western in the traditional sense, Vanderhaeghe never sinks into parody. Rather, he uses the Western motif to reveal a number of profound universal truths about personal honour, and human failings and strengths. His humane character depictions reach emotional depths found in few novels today. --Mark Frutkin, Amazon.ca
--This text refers to an alternate
From Publishers Weekly
This sweeping epic novel of the search for a lost Englishman in the raw Indian territories of the U.S.-Canadian Western borderlands in the late 19th century was a Canadian bestseller and award-winner last year, but has only just made it here. That's puzzling, for Vanderhaeghe (The Englishman's Boy) is a prodigiously gifted writer who makes the West, its fierce weathers, rugged landscapes and contrary characters come to life in a way comparable to McMurtry at his best. He tells of the disappearance on the prairie of a wealthy and idealistic young Englishman, Simon Gaunt, in the company of a devious missionary who is later found dead. Simon's tyrannical father sends brothers Charles and Addington to see if they can find out what happened to him and if, by chance, he is still alive. The dreamy, artistic Charles and the preening, choleric Addington get together with a Scots-Indian half-breed, Jerry Potts (a real person of the time), as their guide and set out into a wilderness inhabited only by warring Indian tribes and rogue traders selling them whiskey. They are accompanied by Lucy Stoveall, a tough beauty in search of the renegades who raped and murdered her young sister, and Custis Straw, a battered Civil War veteran desperately in love with her. Their adventures are pulse-poundingly exciting and graphic, and if the book has a fault it is that it is almost overstuffed with drama and incident. A pair of brilliant set pieces-Straw's memories of a bloody Civil War battle, and a murderous encounter between warring Indian tribes-are not really essential to the narrative, and the elegiac ending seems oddly off-key. But the book's rewards far transcend these excesses, and no reader once embarked on this hugely involving adventure will be able to stop until it is done.
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