Lisa Moore, Caught

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In preparation to the announcement of the winner of the 2013 Giller Prize on Tuesday, November 5, I am doing a pre-Giller reading binge. I bought three of the short-listed works: Caught, by Lisa Moore, Going Home Again, by Dennis Bock, and Cataract City, by Craig Davidson. I had not yet read anything by any of the authors whose works were nominated to the short list this year. Since last year, I had only read the winning entry after the announcement, I thought that his year, I should get into it a little bit more and discover more authors.

So far, it’s been pretty good. I have usually liked the books I have picked from the Giller short list, with one exception that we don’t need to name here. I’ve managed to finish Caught, and I am 65% through Going Home Again.

Lisa Moore’s Caught reads like an adventure novel. It tells two parallel stories. First there is David Slaney, an escaped convict who is reconnecting with the childhood friend who first contributed to getting him in trouble to have another run at bringing in a huge load of marijuana from Columbia. Second, there is law-enforcer Patterson who is trying to catch him and on whose success depend a possible promotion and raise that would help him take care of some personal obligations, one of which is the long term care of his mentally handicapped brother. The end is not much of a surprise, as there are many warnings that it will happen, and David gets caught again. He ends up spending another 20 years in prison.

The character of David Slaney is fascinating. While he is shown in a scene where he must negotiate the price and transfer of the load of marijuana in Columbia as a wily negotiator, he is certainly not a hardened criminal. He abhors violence and is greatly concerned with everyone’s safety. In fact, one must wonder about the reasons why he got involve in this kind of activity in the first place, apart from the challenge associated with it and the influence of his childhood friend Hearn for whom he has a deep love and sense of obligation. The latter feeling, in my opinion, is unwarranted and certainly not reciprocated by Hearn.

David’s constant longing for freedom and his fear of having to return to prison does not seem to drive him to walk away from the whole deal. He feels driven to stick to his word and forge ahead to the bitter end. In their first misadventure, Hearn got away by jumping bail. A twist of faith, an illegal move by the police, causes him to not undergo trial for the second misadventure. After that, David does not maintain contact with Hearn and does not answer his letters.

In last chapter, he gets out of prison and finds his way to Hearn’s office at the university where he is a professor of English. He does not knock on his office door and does not make contact with him. He returns to his mother’s house from where he will have to build a new life. The sadness that fills this character throughout the book of very touching. The author provides a very thoughtful description of the complexity of human sentiments and the messiness of the consequences of life choices. Caught is therefore far more than an adventure novel, it is also an exploration of the depth of the human soul, caught in treacherous undercurrents of events that one, in the end, does not control.

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