Caught, Lisa Moore’s latest novel, is about a 25-year-old prison escapee attempting to smuggle millions of dollars of marijuana into Canada. As anyone who is familiar with Moore will attest from the above description alone, this is a new direction for the author, whose breathtaking and emotional short stories and novels have been delighting and moving readers in Canada and beyond for over a decade. (Certain moments in her work have stayed with me as vividly as my own most formative memories.)
The novel, which came out last month, is the latest in Moore’s recent literary success. In October 2012 a volume of selected short fiction came out, containing the best stories from her earlier two collections, Degrees of Nakedness and Open, as well as new work. Then, this past March, Moore’s second novel, February, won CBC’s Canada Reads competition (click here for our review of February). The difference between these two books is stark: where February was an exploration of grief and of a family dealing with past tragedy, Caught is an adventure story and a crime drama, and is by far the most plot-oriented of anything Moore has done before.
The novel opens minutes after David Slaney has escaped from a Nova Scotia prison, where he was serving time for smuggling marijuana. His plan is to lay low for a few days, and then start making his way towards Vancouver, where his best friend and fellow drug-smuggler Brian Hearn is a graduate student in English literature, busy planning another massive smuggling operation. Though caught along with Slaney, Hearn never served any jail time, skipping bail and assuming a fake identity.
As the narrative unfolds, and we watch Slaney’s journey across the country, helped along by the truck drivers, hotel owners, strippers, and students he meets on the way, Moore skillfully plays off our expectations: will Slaney get caught? Or will he be able to pull off the drug-smuggling operation and elude the RCMP?
Don’t be fooled by the novel’s bare bones summary, though: this is far from a run-of-the-mill crime story. Slaney is a bright young man in the prime of his life, and as we watch him travel the country and live his chosen life as an outlaw, we begin to understand that Slaney’s desire to smuggle is a manifestation of the joy and thrill of being young. Slaney spends a great deal of time thinking about trust, friendship, love, childhood, identity, and the overarching theme of the novel, getting — or not getting — caught. By the novel’s end, the book turns into a devastating rumination on what it means to be alive, on the passage of time, of living within the bounds of who you were and what you did when you were young and reckless.
As mentioned above, while a departure from her earlier work in many ways, the novel still has everything that makes Moore such an exciting, brilliant writer. Her ability to create complex, emotional characters, describe an image in such exacting, tuned-in language that the thing being described comes to surprising life (for an example of either of these things, turn to just about any page in the book), the pitch-perfect dialogue, the dipping into and out of characters’ memories, beliefs, fantasies, and fears, it’s all here. Moore’s sentences, as always, burn right off the page, searing themselves into our minds.
By turns suspenseful, moving, evocative, and always engrossing, Caught shows us that no matter what Lisa Moore turns her mind to, whether an all-night dinner party in Vancouver or a drug smuggler haggling with gangsters on a Colombian beach, her writing will thrum with vigorous, vital life.
(House of Anansi Press / 328 pgs. / May 2013 / CDN$29.92 in hardcover)