Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Purchase by Linda Spalding

Linda Spalding was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1943. She has lived in Canada since 1982, and has established a solid reputation as a writer of fiction and non-fiction, and as a teacher of writing. She is married to Michael Ondaatje. Her novel, The Purchase, won the Governor General's Literary Prize for Fiction in 2012.
An exiled Quaker, with an under-age second wife, several small children, and a knack for making bad decisions, moves to the south, inadvertently buys a young slave boy, and basically manages to alienate all of his family members and neighbors. In some ways this novel comes across as an ode to the first amendment of the US Constitution, all the while anticipating the thirteenth amendment, constructed from overlapping personal journeys, the majority of which are cast along trajectories of running away from, rather than running toward, something. There's a tremendous earthiness to the author's descriptions, and nearly every scene leaves the reader yearning for a hot shower and a decent meal. 
Canada is mentioned briefly, anecdotally as a country where place names all refer to royalty, and more substantively with respect to the black ex-slaves who, after their escape to the north, joined British forces to fight against the United States in the War of 1812. 
Of the three prize-winning works of Canadian fiction I promised to review (see previous posts), I liked this one the best by a long shot. If you had told me what it was about before I started reading it, I would have said that I have little or no interest in the subject matter, and to a large extent that still holds true. Spalding's writing style and her ability to develop complex and fulsome characters drew me and in and kept me reading. This book stands out as an exemplar of compelling storytelling.

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