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The Last Crossing: A Novel
ISBN 087113912X / 9780871139122 / 0-87113-912-X
Publisher Atlantic Monthly Press
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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 [via]