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The Last Crossing (2005)

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3.81 of 5 Votes: 3
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0349117268 (ISBN13: 9780349117263)
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The Last Crossing (2005) - Plot & Excerpts

I have so much to say about this book but I don't know how much I'll be able to articulate clearly, because I'm in a weird emotional spot due to the book and other things happening...This is the first Vanderhaeghe I've read, and I have to read more, because he is absolutely brilliant (I seriously need to find a new word). This book draws you right in and throws you into a journey of discovery, disappointment, and moments of clarity and beauty that just can't be described. I started to have this weird feeling once the actual adventure began and it grew and grew and has not left since I finished the book. It's like the whole vast expanse of unsettled Canada, huge sky and miles of prairie, is inside my chest--like inside my spirit, soul, heart, whatever you want to call it... like I feel like a TARDIS or Mary Poppins' carpet bag with an entire country of wild open land inside me. It sounds crazy, I know, but maybe if you have read the book you can relate.I just spent about five minutes mulling over how to talk about these characters, because they are so complex and so... I don't know. I don't really have a character--at first I really liked Charles, especially his dry humour as he subtly calls people out on injustices and how much he cares about Simon and everyone really, but I got kind of annoyed with him by the end. Too stuck in the rut of being a proper English gentleman, even throughout and after the shenanigans in Canada. Jerry Potts is an intriguing character with his mixed background and us never really knowing his motivations. Custis Straw I disliked at the beginning because of his borderline stalker obsession with Lucy Stoveall, but he turned out to be a pretty decent guy, actually. Especially the fact that he won't stand for Addington's abusive nature, and also his patience with Charles throughout the book is quite commendable.Lucy Stoveall is a character I have a deep admiration for... and while I had hoped that she and Charles could have remained happy together until the end (they were so cute I just... yeah), for the sake of the story it was inevitable and perfect the way everything played out. I mostly admire her ability to go on after the tragic destruction of her little sister--she manages to wade through her grief and hold on through times of utter despair and she is able to find some measure of happiness, of which I am so glad.Addington... let's just say I was both bewildered by him and hated him with every fibre of my being. We'll leave it at that.Now that I think about it, I guess Simon is probably my favourite character. He is the one we know the least about; we see him only through Charles's eyes, thoughts and memories, and we eventually come to the realization that Charles's comfortable portrait of his twin is not necessarily a very accurate one. Charles has the misfortune of caring too much about propriety and appearance, and one of his greatest flaws is the way he interprets, covers up, and refuses to acknowledge things that are contrary to his orderly and comfort-seeking state of being. But I'm rambling--I was supposed to be talking about Simon. Simon is kind of a fascinating character, and I don't want to say much about him in order not to spoil anything, but whole essays could be written about his convictions, his philosophies, and his choices.This is the first novel I have ever defaced with earmarks and pencil scribbles, but it just seemed to be a natural and appropriate thing to do for some reason... I'll show you some things I found particularly remarkable. Like, for example, Charles struggling with painting the deep openness of a country so set apart from the careful hedgerows and pleasant countryside he has been taught to paint all his life."Pretty was not really my goal. You see, I'm rather at a loss as to how to render the scene. It's the sky that confounds me. These skies are not what I'm used to in England." I point and her gaze follows my finger. "Now how do you paint that?" We both squint into a cloudless heaven that seems to spill a fierce, pale blue light on our upturned faces. "When your training no longer answers--why then you must experiment. And it is not the skies alone, the quality of the light here changes everything, even the shadows." I trace our silhouettes, crisply etched on the ground. "I was taught to bleed the edges of shadows. But here, on this land, a shadow is a cameo, cut from black tin, sharply defined, stark." I rummage for a more expressive word. "Heavy." -pg. 140I didn't realize at the time, but Charles' struggle with painting his surroundings in the New Country is a very clear metaphor for his struggle to wrap his traditional, English high-society scholar's mind around anything new, bigger than civilization, uncertain.No moment I think is more drenched with perfect irony and dry humour than Charles's comment as he, Addington and Ayto sit drinking in the early stages of their adventure. Ayto is telling stories (and being disgustingly racist in the process--see "The army must deal with the Indians, not civilians. No nonsense from our red friends then. Let the logic of lead persuade them to mend their ways.") and praising his buddy Addington to no end, calling him the "cream of Anglo-Saxon civilization".Then in comes Charles with a cuttingly clever comment on the power of media (or in their case, Ayto as Addington's personal writer) saying, "To the power of the press. To influence bought for a penny a line. To the milk of Anglo-Saxon civilization which floats the cream." - pg. 143That stumps them for a minute or two. And then comes the sarcasm, to which the two older men are completely oblivious: "Put my bad behaviour down to envy. A painter feels his superfluousness when confronted with two monumental pillars of civilization such as yourselves." I think I actually laughed out loud when I read that.This book is many pieces woven together--present, in the moment first person accounts, memories, objective third person bits... but one of my favourite sequences is Charles' walk down memory lane (literally) as he recalls a night-time stroll with Simon during their university days. That chapter so full of foreshadowing it's amazing, yet you can't pick it up unless you read the whole book and then go back. But before I show you some examples of that, I just really like this little part that really shows the inherent difference between Charles and Simon's characters. This is from page 154:Simon: "I am filled with happiness here. Does your perception of the world promote your happiness?"Charles: "My perception promotes my comfort. It permits me to make my way in the world. (...) Fairy moonbeams do not provide a steady light."Let that sink in for a moment.There is such a refreshing clairvoyance in Simon's dialogue in this scene, I just have to share some of it..."We are a family of dissemblers," he said. My brother gravely pursed his lips, a judge momentously weighing a sentence. "And I am the greatest dissembler of us all," he said at last." - pg. 155And that isn't even the best foreshadowing moment on this page--what about this little bit, which shows that Simon knows Charles far better than Charles could ever hope to know him or even himself:"Do not follow your present course. It is a dead end. The dead end of the perfect English gentleman. Go away. Go to Italy, or to France." -pg. 155I don't think it's a major spoiler to tell you that Charles spends many later years of his life in Italy.And lastly, the riddles (as Charles says); the best foreshadowing for Simon's character (in my opinion) in this scene. Says he: "I edge towards honesty. But this is only a first step. I must learn courage by degrees. (...) I would not have you think ill of me. Do not think ill of me, whatever happens." -pg. 155Next I have a little snippet of Lucy's thoughts, something Madge would say to her about finding happiness in the now which I thought was just exquisite:She'd whisper to me to take my tiny piece of happiness, hold its honey in my mouth until it melts away. -pg. 233The next earmark is also from Lucy, though it's in one of her melancholy moods... but it kind of hit home for me, so I had to remember it:It might be high summer all about but inside me everything is fall. The lonesomeness of a sad, slow closing of days, knowing frost is nigh and wind needling through the cabin chinks is just around the bend. That's me, right now. -pg. 251Then a little bit of blunt wisdom from Mr. Custis Straw, the diligent peacemaker in the margins:"I may be ignorant, Dr. Bengough, but I'm not stupid. The difference between ignorant and stupid is that ignorance can be corrected and stupidity can't." -pg. 255Oh look, another Custis moment--I see this little bit as illustrating the despair he has in any search for goodness in humanity:"The first time I read the Bible cover to cover, I was in an army hospital in Washington," I said. "I had a mind to make myself believe every single word was true. The second time I read it to satisfy myself it was all a lie. Now I read it to weigh both sides, and find some truth." Bengough nodded. "And what in the Good Book have you decided is absolutely and indisputably true?" I thought for a moment. "That verse that says 'Jesus wept.'" -pg. 260The characters in this book are all pretty philosophical... perhaps that's one of the things that I like so much about it. It's such an interesting study of Canadian history, of society, of character and "civilization". I'm very glad I picked it up from the Winters' flea market that day!Here's another heavy metaphor for Charles that jumped out at me as soon as I saw it. It's immediately after Custis has effectively renounced his pursuit of Lucy Stoveall and shifted his burden (Charles's word, not mine!) onto Charles's shoulders. Then...All night the wet snow falls, sticks to the tent; the canvas roof sags above me. -pg. 343*break* ... perhaps this is more effective if read in context, but oh well.Okay, so now we get into some more really interesting character and culture stuff. I had a tiny feeling (spoiler!) that Simon might be queer from some almost imperceptible hints early in the book, and I was therefore surprised and a little muddled when we learn of his having taken to the lodge of the bote, a prominent woman figure among the Crow. But then we learn the significance of the bote: she is a Two Spirit--born a man but called to the life path of a woman and held in reverence among many indigenous tribes in North America. It seems like such a natural way for a culture to respond to trans people that it really shouts at you what a wreck Western society made of everything. It is Custis explaining the nature of Simon's companion to Charles, saying that a future bote will show signs and ask to be allowed to keep company with the women as a child and... "Not to do as the child wishes would be wrong because he is born on a path, and it would be evil, a crime against nature to make him deny his spirit." -pg. 356Wow. Right? I'm sorry that this ended up being spoiler-y but I felt like this was something that shouldn't be left out of my review because it is an incredibly interesting aspect of the story and of that culture. (I learnt about Two Spirits in my Philosophy of Gender and Sexuality course last term so I had a little bit of context for this)The new character who visits Charles at the end, Harkness, was a perfect addition. I liked him a lot less, however, after his comment about the uncolonised parts of Canada being a "cultural wasteland". So I was glad when the plot twist I suspected ended up being his mysterious wife, Marjorie, rather than himself. I really, really like the end of the book. I really, really like the entire book, in case you didn't gather that from the kind of ridiculous length of this review. I have the second-last paragraph underlined but I think I'll leave that for you to discover for yourself. Probably better that way.In other news, as you can see I finally noticed the html instructions on the side that tell you how to italicize something here. Good to know.

The lasst crossing by Guy VanderhaegheHistorical fiction set in the era shortly after the Civil War in the USA in frontier Western landscape. I can see that this is an epic novel, and great in how it engages with issues of the day that are still pertinent today, the way a different time is brought forward in a gritty way and at the same time employing a style of telling that sounds very much like the narrative style of the era. The story opens with Charles Guant receiving a letter from the Americas with news of people from his past. The story then takes us into that past. There are various storylines involved: In England the Gaunt brothers grew up under the thumb of their aristocratically minded father. Addington is a dislikable upper class snob interested only in hunting and womanising. Charles is a middling painter very aware of his moral and aethetic failings and his twin Simon is held up as an idealist incapable of living in the world. It is Simon who goes off to America in thrall of an evangelical preacher to convert the Indians to Christianity. Deteriorating in health, the father send the brothers to look for Simon, disregarding warnings that he may very well be dead...Most of the story is set in the Americas, where Charles finds a mixed blood Indian (Scottish-Blackfoot) to guide them into the hinterland. The little town they start from has its own drama – A young girl is found murdered and her sister, Lucy, is determined to track down and avenge her killing. Like Simon, Madge, the dead sister, is presented as an idealised and innocent person. Custis Straw, initially accused of her murder, is in love with Lucy and joins the search party. The landscape is harsh, the life brutal, most of the characters presented in a gritty, survivalist mode – no country for the weak at all. There is a great deal of history that is hinted, the various struggling histories suggested – the struggle of the various Indian peoples and their difficult encounters with European peoples in the mercenary and zig-zag manner of exploitation, amalgamation and resentful tolerance. The story is focalised mostly through Charles, but shifts to other characters as well. It is narrated in part in the third person, but moves to first-person narration every now and again, clearly indicating which character’s thoughts or viewpoint is presented.It is this I think that the book is great in – the sense of presenting a lanscape as non-idealised as this as a melting pot, a beginning of the ‘known’ or presented version of American history and frontier glory (not). The mish-mash and clash of various individuals and values in a setting where anything is still possible. The question begs, what kind of society can grow from such beginnings... For me an interesting aside is something on gender/transgender experiences in that came to the fore once news of Simon came.

What do You think about The Last Crossing (2005)?

CBC put together a fine crew to read this book for "Between the Covers". Through the actors' reading I was able to better appreciate Guy Vanderhaeghe's wonderfully descriptive writing, for example Lucy's dream. His ability to capture different voices was also broadcast to great effect here. Custis spoke differently than Lucy, who differed from Dooley, who of course differed from Charles. I also thought it kind of funny that whenever any of the other narrators had to quote dialogue spoken by Charles, they ALL did their best British accents. It was a hoot! Oh Charles and his pompous Britishness. And Vanderhaeghe's rendering of Jerry Potts' thought processes in narration was very good.As for the story itself, it was interesting the second time around. I read it before but put it down perilously close to the end and never got back into it. Suffice to say the end was quite the surprise, but the various ends were tied up nicely (or left to continue their usual patterns). The adventures of the search party were very exciting, and the characters' evolution (or lack thereof) throughout the story kept you reading. The dialogue was also good and contained some amusing one-liners, such as Custis Straw's sharp remark to Titus Kelso: "Titus, the best part of you dripped down your mother's leg." I laughed aloud at that one because it was just so sharp and rude! Also because Eric Peterson said it.Overall, a good book. Might be better in audio if you can get it, just so you can fully appreciate the different voices.

I read this book during a Canadian Novel course in university and I must say, not one of our prouder moments as a country.This novel bored me to death. I have never fallen asleep so many times trying to read a book. I understand that the drawn out nature of the plot line is in direct reference to the idea that the trip the characters are taking is a long and cumbersome one but wow. I could not keep with it. After reading ten pages, it felt like two hundred. I cant even say for sure if I finished reading it. It was lacklustre enough for me to not really remember much about it other then its arduous nature.The narrative was bizarre. I dont mind changing the narrators for a fresh perspective on the story line but to have so many made it confusing to keep up with. Again, also drawn out when the same situation was described several times, in very similar manners but by different people.Did not enjoy.

I found this a highly satisfying tale of the cultural clash and personal transformations that occur when two brothers from Victorian England go on a quest to the mountain West of the U.S. and Canada to find their missing brother, who disappeared on a mission to convert the Indians in the Montana territory of 1871. For a tragicomedy at the turning point of the taming of the frontier, this does not attain the heights of McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove”, but it taps the same vein of pleasure. The ensemble of colorful characters was marvelous for me. We have Charles Gaunt, a London portrait painter who reflects back on the story in this book when he comes across a news story about the death of a famous Indian guide, the “half breed” Jerry Potts. Decades before, his dreamy, impracticable twin brother Simon dropped out of Oxford under the sway of a kooky minister who believes the American Indians are the lost tribe of Israel who need the enlightened with the word of God. One of the opening scenes flashes on Simon getting caught in a blizzard in the West and improvising a shelter within the body of his horse and encountering an Indian we are told is “two spirited”. With no news of Simon, the rich patriarch of the Gaunt family orders Charles and his macho, snobbish brother Addington to mount an expedition to try to find Simon and bring him back. From the start, Addington want to use the quest as an adventure to prove himself as a man, whereas Charles finds something missing in his aristocratic life in the open intersection of cultures and classes in the West. Above all, this tale is about the pathway of brothers, bound to each other by blood and legacy and traditions of British imperial dominance of the world, but like children they find divergent games and roles to play at on this stage. Other key characters include: Jerry Potts, the competent guide who suffers from being split between the cultures of the whites and the Indians and suffers from abandonment by his Crow wife and son for guiding a raid on her tribe; Lucy Stoveall, a feisty woman who joins their party seeking vengeance for the murder of her sister by itinerant trappers; and Custis Straw, a Civil War veteran who now prefers the company of women over violent men. Each is brought vividly to life, and I loved each of them as they rise to the challenges of changing circumstance and are forced to transform their initial purposes. There is a great love triangle in the story, side journeys, harrowing escapes from danger, and periods of comic relief. You will be taxed to figure out for yourself how much this is an absurdist satire and how much an old fashioned saga of romance and heroism. The balance made a nice treat for me.I leave you with a couple of quotes to convey some of the flavor of this Canadian author’s writing. In the first, a journalist who seems to worship the cut of Addington’s jib is closing his drunken discussion on the power of the pen relative to the sword in civilization with an example of his attack on hiring an Indian to serve at an Indian Affairs trading post:“Some years ago I wrote a small but influential pamphlet. The title was ‘A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.’ “ He allows us a moment to express our awe, as if he had said, “I once wrote a small poem, the title of which was Paradise Lost. ... “I maintained then and I have done so to this very day, that the army must deal with the Indians, not civilians. No nonsense from our red friends then. Let the logic of lead persuade them to mend their ways.”I raise my glass, propose my toast. “To the power of the press. To influence bought for a penny a line. To the milk of Anglo-Saxon civilization which floats the cream.”In a final example, Charles’ party has trekked into the regions of the future Alberta and come across of group of Metis hauling buffalo meat to Ft. Edmonton (an emergent culture with part French and part Cree/Ojibwe heritage): To my mind, the Metis closely resemble a tribe of wandering gypsies. …Stirred by what I have seen, I remark to Lucy, “How fine it would be, my dear, if we could only live as those people do! A Metis man and woman, free of the constraints and prohibitions of civilized behavior!”Lucy turns a steady gaze upon me, brown eyes liquid, lustrous in the morning light. She studies me as Mr. Darwin must have studies his specimens, searching for the one clue that would be the key to understanding. I know she has remarked the unfortunate words I have employed—constrains, prohibitions, civilization; now she understands I think precisely in those terms. Leaning over, she brushes the corner of my mouth forgivingly with her lips. Nothing more is said. My essential self has been revealed.

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