Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Friends of Meager Fortune

The Friends of Meager Fortune by David Adams Richards
MacAdam/Cage, 2007
Hardcover, 377 pages
ISBN-13: 9781596921894
very highly recommended

Synopsis from Cover:
It's the mid-twentieth century and the Canadian lumber industry is dying. Only men who are strong in both body and spirit, men like Will Jameson, can lead the expeditions to harvest timber in the perilous mountain landscape. But when Will dies in a tragic accident, it falls to his younger brother, Owen, to take command.
Recently returned from military duty, Owen watches his war-hero status quickly fade as he becomes entangled in a triangle between Reggie, the man he saved on the battlefield, and Reggie's wife Camellia, the woman he desires. As the town turns against him and the logging expedition becomes more treacherous, Owen seems trapped in a destiny full of betrayal, love, envy, and jealousy.
My Thoughts:

"Betrayal is such a vicious sin, worse than the cauldron Dante put his sinners in." (pg. 303)

In The Friends of Meager Fortune, David Adams Richards returns to New Brunswick’s Miramichi Valley in the mid-twentieth century to explore gossip and betrayal in a small town that turns out to be just as treacherous as the Canadian lumber industry. It follows the Jameson family who own one of the last family-operated mills during the last days of the lumber industry - before it is taken over by mechanization and corporatization.

After establishing the setting and characters in The Friends of Meager Fortune (and readers will note that Meager Fortune is a man, introduced on page 92), Richards follows two storylines of betrayal: the rumor and scandal circulating through the town; and the danger facing the men logging through the winter at the Good Friday cut. David Adams Richards uses historical settings to further the exploration of archetypal human emotions. It is to his credit that I, who have never really had any interest in the Canadian logging industry, was as totally engrossed in the story of the men working through the brutal winter as with the rumors circulating in the town.

The Friends of Meager Fortune is mythical in its universal tale of fate. There are flawed heroes. There are far-reaching, terrible acts of betrayal. There are examples of human weakness. There are feats of superhuman strength. There is good among the evil. And, amidst all of this, there is a chorus of harpy-like townspeople, where rumor and gossip turn emotions and sentiments on a whim. Any one who has ever lived in a small town will understand how truly treacherous they can be, with public opinion easily swayed and quickly changing.

Now, I will mention that Richards’ books can feel overwhelmingly melancholy and there is usually a religious element present. In The Friends of Meager Fortune, Meager Fortune said of the evil men do: "That men have rid themselves of God, and are famished, and therefore do terrible things to make such famine go away." (pg. 333)

I can't help but wonder why more people aren't singing the praises of David Adams Richards. He is an incredible author and I am more and more impressed with his writing after each book I read. In fact, I have been purposefully acquiring his novels, but delaying reading each next book of his, not wanting it to be the last and alternately afraid it will not be as good. But each book has been just as good as the one before it. Perhaps the following quote offers some explanation:

"Its failure to win prizes rests mainly in the demands it makes of its readers. The book must be read slowly, intensely and repeatedly in a way that is common enough among everyday readers but becomes increasingly difficult for professionals at a time when too many trees give up too much life to mediocrities that will never leap into tongues of flame nor rise as pillars of smoke and carry our dreams with them." Prophetic and Retrospective by T.F. Rigelhof

Very Highly Recommended - one of the best


I had to walk up the back way, through a wall of dark winter nettles, to see the ferocious old house from this vantage point. A black night and snow falling, the four turrets rising into the fleeing clouds above me. A house already ninety years old and with more history than most in town.
His name was Will Jameson.
His family was in lumber, or was Lumber, and because of his father’s death he left school when just a boy and took over the reins of the industry when he was not yet sixteen. He would wake at dawn, and deal with men, sitting in offices in his rustic suit or out on a cruise walking twenty miles on snowshoes, be in camp for supper and direct men twice as old as he. opening

If we Canadians are called hewers of wood and drawers of water, and balk, young Will Jameson did not mind this assumption, did not mind the crass biblical analogy, or perhaps did not know or care it was one, and leapt toward it in youthful pride, as through a burning ring. The strength of all moneyed families is their ignorance of or indifference to chaff. And it was this indifference to jealousy and spite that created the destiny Jameson believed in (never minding the Jamesian insult toward it), which made him prosperous, at a place near the end of the world. pg. 4

In local legend the wife of Paul Francis was said to have the gift of prophecy when inspired by drink, and when Mary Jameson insisted her fortune be read with a pack of playing cards, she was told that her first-born would be a powerful man and have much respect – but his brother would be even greater, yet destroy the legacy by rashness, and the Jameson dynasty not go beyond that second boy.
Mrs. Francis warned that the prophecy would not be heeded, and therefore happen. It would happen in a senseless way, but of such a route as to look ordinary. pg. 4

This was the bowing and scraping to a propriety that men of Will Jameson's ilk believed they never bowed or scraped to. pg. 8

He jumped one log to the next with this wall at his back. And as he moved the logs themselves grew up over him. But even then, his brother heard later, he managed to dodge the first volley of logs that fell almost on him. He made a giant Hail Mary leap, when the logs as loud as a crack in the center of the earth swallowed him whole. pg. 25

Mary said she did not want wood for her younger son. Nor any part of wood, any measure or drift of wood or the complex commitment of it, or of the men who made their living in the pitiless world associated with it. For it was a pitiless world - for animals, horses, men, it was every bit as pitiless as the sea. pg. 30

That is, he accepted what the town said about its citizens, and had long ago realized the town did not wish greatness from its citizens. It secretly wished mediocrity. pg. 32

Owen joined the North Shore, trained, decided to be killed in action, and left for Europe in 1941. pg. 36

Alive or not, Owen Jameson did not come readily back to Canada after the was. He stayed away until October of 1946./ He wanted the town and his mother to forget him. pg. 42

He was no longer that shy child Reggie had cared about but just another man motivated by his own wounds to wound as well. pg. 60

Meager Fortune coming through the door.... Owen had traveled with Meager in the war and had hired him as a general camp keeper. pg. 92

Betrayal is such a vicious sin, worse than the cauldron Dante put his sinners in. pg. 303

"That men have rid themselves of God, and are famished, and therefore do terrible things to make such famine go away." pg. 333

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