Guy Vanderhaeghe was robbed. The Last Crossing deserved to be short-listed on every book award in the English-speaking world, but it wasn’t. We can all make amends by reading this wonderful book -- but not as I did, in the bathtub. I read it straight through from beginning to end, without adding any extra hot water. That’s how good a book this is.
What I enjoyed most was Vanderhaeghe’s talent for creating atmosphere. He successfully blends fictional characters, historical facts, and a real-life Canadian hero: Bear Child, or, as he was known to non-Natives, Jerry Potts. The story is essentially about the Gaunt brothers -- Addington, a sadistic brute; Simon, a religious zealot; and Charles, his artistic twin brother. Before you can say “Legends of the Fall meets Cain and Abel meets East of Eden,” let me tell you this book is much more than a bi-continental family feud. The story spans both time and distance. It opens in England in 1896, whenCharles recieves a mysterious request from Custis Straw. Distant memories are recalled and the epic begins.
Twenty-five years earlier, Simon went missing in the wilds of Canada, and Charles Gaunt is sent to search for him. Addington, in between stealing articles of ladies clothing to satisfy his fetish, has been put in charge of organizing the supplies and the necessary scouts. A cast of fully developed and fascinating characters with equally wonderful names (Aloysius Dooley, Caleb Ayto, and Mrs. Stoveall, to name just a few) keep this in-depth novel from becoming boring. I bobbed and weaved while reading about a London Rules boxing match, felt the heat from a forest fire closing in upon Yankee soldiers; my heart raced during a Blackfoot attack on Crow warriors. Why? Because Vanderhaeghe is a splendid writer. He is so talented that he kept me interested in a story that includes history, gender, class, syphillus and a Victorian-era dysfunctional family. Not once did I feel the urge to sleep. This book is a highly polished four-star gem.