River Thieves Paperback – Aug 27 2002
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2001 Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award Shortlist:: In River Thieves, his first novel, poet and short-story writer Michael Crummey reaches far into Newfoundland's past to tell one of the colony's most tragic stories: the extermination of the Beothuk people. Through the lives and reminiscences of some of the colony's most prominent European residents--David Buchan, a naval explorer and idealist who attempts to bring the isolated Beothuks into productive contact with the British Empire; John Peyton Jr., the obedient son of a relentlessly patriarchal local trader; Cassie Jure, John Peyton Sr.'s literate, aloof housekeeper; and Joseph Reilly, a transported Irish thief and a genuinely decent trapper--Crummey recounts a half-hearted attempt, foiled by the colony's petty tensions, to save the Beothuks.
River Thieves is an oddly meandering novel, but this is its greatest appeal. Rather than offering a grisly, guilt-ridden adventure story that rushes from its suitably portentous beginning to its inevitably sombre end, Crummey works with a fitful sort of history, one that has to go over the same events a few times before they begin to give up their secrets, temporarily leaving his readers as disoriented as his benighted characters. The book's real heart--the Beothuksis never fully articulated; they remain buried on the shore, or encamped among the snows of Red Indian Lake. Anyone who wants this kind of story to come equipped with heroes and, perhaps, even answers, should turn to Rudy Wiebe, but Crummey's labyrinthine approach has its own distinct appeal. --Jack Illingworth
From Publishers Weekly
Trudging across the same harsh, icy fictional terrain that's fired the imagination of such writers as William Vollman, Andrea Barrett and Wayne Johnston, Crummey, an award-winning poet (Arguments with Gravity), has produced a poetic but ponderous tale of the colonization of Newfoundland and the last days of its Beothuk Indians. As the novel opens in 1810, grim family patriarch and homesteader John Senior (his face looks "hard enough to stop an axe") has kept up a hostile standoff with the Beothuk for years. But John Senior's blood feud with the Indians doesn't sit well with his idealistic son, John, with his spirited housekeeper, Cassie, or with David Buchan, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy who organizes a peacekeeping expedition to the Indian territories. When the mission goes awry and two soldiers are left headless in the snow, John Senior and the settlers set out to exact their revenge on the natives. Fitting for a book about history and the mapping of a lost world, Crummey's story is shaped by the vagaries of memory, perpetually circling back on itself to fill in narrative and historical details. And as is sometimes typical of a first novel by a seasoned poet, Crummey's story struggles to maintain momentum, dilating at length on the meaning and limitations of language. Each Beothuk word that survives, he writes, "has the heft of a museum artifact." The same might be said of Crummey's prose ("Fat dripped into the fire, the smell of it darkening the air like a bruise") and his characters' stilted behavior, which gives rise to a panorama of Newfoundland history and mythology as carefully composed but as lifeless as a dusty museum diorama.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
This story takes place primarily in the very early 19th Century although there are references to years that bracket the story. The atmosphere I take to be absolutely on point, as the author was borne and continues to live in the same settings on which his book takes place. This leap of faith is difficult to make when the reader has never been to the locale of the book, but Michael Crummey makes the presumption effortless.
The story is ostensibly about the demise of the, "Red Indians", or "The Beothuk". The reasons for the near extinction of these people is the result of the same effects felt throughout the Americas that settlers from Europe either brought with them, or practiced, disease or their desire to take the native population's land. Had the author restricted himself to this review of history, the book would have been too familiar. Instead the author gets deeply involved with a variety of players, and by sharing their stories reveals the fate of the Beothuk as well.
Included are settlers, criminals from England that have been transported, as well as the government officials that were the rule of law. The author also departs from attitudes and the people who hold and act on them.Read more ›
To avoid restating the other review, this is a well-told story with some unfolding mystery and very fine use of language: strong nouns and verbs don't need the supporting cast of adjectives often used by other writers.
Definitely a recommended read. And, no, this is not a woman-only book: MEN, you'll definitely enjoy this.
Most recent customer reviews
Although the book is not in terrible condition it is an ex library book and this was not disclosed... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
Extremely well written. The history is very well recorded and accurate as to my knowledge.
I was born in Newfoundland in 1945 and am a member of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First... Read more
I would have probably given this a 2.5 if possible. It is one of those books that is forgettable.Published 10 months ago by derek hennig