March 21, 2013

Book Review: The Purchase by Linda Spalding

Why do we have such a fondness for the past when it is so damn horrible? That is one of my thoughts on reading The Purchase by Linda Spalding.

Spalding has crafted a wonderful read with this book. There is great attention to historical detail and the story is truly mesmerizing, yet the past of this story is a dark and unforgiving place indeed.

The story begins in 1798 when Daniel Dickinson and his young family are exiled from their Quaker community in Pennsylvania. Daniel's wife has died and he has married their fifteen year old servant, which doesn't go over too well with the leaders of the community. He moves his young family to Virginia with hopes  for a new life and an attempt to master his pride. Despite his hard work, humanity and compassion, he struggles with what seems to be a never ending set of failures.

The book's title comes from an incident early in the story, when Daniel accidentally, though purposefully, breaks with his Quaker tradition and faith, and buys a young slave boy. As the story unfolds, his eldest daughter Mary claims more of the narrative, her life becoming entwined with a slave woman.

Recalling Cormac McCarthy's The Road, there is much darkness, brutality and tragedy in this story. However, unlike McCarthy's spartan writing style, Spalding's prose is rich and full, biblical and lyrical. While hard to put down, this is not a comfortable book to read; there is a sense of recognition that forces the reader to note, not only the injustice of the past, but with great unease, the injustice of the present.

Rich, raw and powerful in its exploration of faith, family, loss and freedom, The Purchase is a terrific book and not to be missed.

Published in September 2012 by McClelland & Stewart, The Purchase was the 2012 winner of the Governor General's Literary Awards for Fiction.

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