Third-person narrative distances reader

By Lisa Moore
House of Anansi, 304 pages, $29.95

Reviewed by Jenny Boychuk

Lisa Moore roots her readers firmly in 1978 Canada in her new novel–problem is, reading this book often felt like being stuck, then trying to run through mud.

Perhaps this is fitting for the beginning of the book as the protagonist, David Slaney, escapes from prison on the east coast, where he’s been held for four years after trying to smuggle marijuana from Colombia to Newfoundland via boat. Slaney runs through the muck and woods in search of a logging road, where he has been told a driver will come for him. He will either escape, or be caught. But he has to go. “There are mistakes that stand in the centre of an empty field and cry out for love.”

Slaney hasn’t escaped to live a quiet life in hiding. He needs to get to his friend and accomplice, Hearn, in Vancouver. He wants to try again, to go back to Colombia. The marijuana will make them millionaires. But it’s not just the money that’s at stake: 25-year-old Slaney wants to get Jennifer, the love of his life, and her daughter back. He wants to be free.

Readers follow Slaney across Canada, down to South America, then back again—with many stops and starts along the way. I often felt like there were many false endings, while the starts felt glazed over. It seemed as though Moore was planning the route as she was writing. She would leave Slaney in a place for a while, in which nothing would happen, and then in the next chapter we were on the road again. As I read, I felt as though I was always missing the middle of things. There is also a great emotional distance from the reader and Slaney, as the story is written in third person. I wanted to be rooting for this character and, even though he’s an anti-hero; I didn’t want him to get caught. But I felt a little too distant from him to care.

But the novel is worth reading for writing like this:

He whispered to himself. He spoke a stream of profanity and he said a prayer to the Virgin Mary, in whom he half believed. Mosquitoes touched him all over. They settled on his skin and put their fine things into him and they were lulled and bloated and thought themselves sexy and near death.

Moore’s characters are fascinating and full of flaws you can’t help but love as soon as you’re introduced to them.

‘Nice to meet you, sir,’ Slaney said.

I was in Korea, the old man said. I saw an arm on the ground. Just the arm. Not attached to nothing. Just lying there in the leaves.

Pops is decorated, the girl said. He got a few medals in there he could show you sometime.

We were marching, he said. I just saw this arm. It was lying on the dirt. Wet leaves stuck on it. That was one thing I saw. I saw a lot of things. You’ve done some travelling, have you?

Yes sir, Slaney said.

Caught is a story about loss, love, risk and betrayal. It tries to redefine innocence and it makes the reader question what is inevitable and what isn’t, and how a person chooses to move forward in order to get what he wants. Moore’s prose is meditative, but the story is about a chase. Whether the two can work together, I’m still unsure.

Jenny Boychuk is a reader and writer who lives in Victoria.