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Understanding the Power-Dream...and History.
on 18 October 2003
Had this beautifully wrought novel not received some publicity for winning the Governor General's Award in Canada in l996, it might have remained "undiscovered" in this age of pop culture and instant bestsellerdom for many books whose primary value seems to be their bankability as future films. Yet author Vanderhaeghe probably would not have been surprised by this. In fact, one of the main themes of this absorbing and satisfying book is the power of film, "the glory of American lightning," and the different goals to which it can be adapted by "artists" and "visionaries."
Structurally, the book tells two stories in alternate chapters set in the Canadian Wild West of the l870's and in Hollywood in the l920's. The author makes no real attempt to create suspense about the identity of the Englishman's boy of the 1870's and who he has become by the 1920's. The author has a bigger vision than that.
Instead, he chooses to reveal small parts of the continuum of history between these dates until at the end the full story of the Englishman's boy is revealed. At the same time, the thematically subtle juxtaposition of specific events from these dramatically different times and places shows how little human nature has changed and how much it is important to be true to ideals and values, whatever they may be and however they may have to accommodate the changes of history.
In this astutely crafted story of wolfer/hunters, Indians, Hollywood moguls, young strivers toward success, Socialists, preservers of the status quo, barely surviving traders, immigrants, hard men, and "visionaries" who would impose their dreams on the masses via film, the reader is caught up in the swirl of history and asked to think about the extent to which history is simply a succession of random events, whether the events have been imposed upon us, and how much, if at all, we can control our own dreams and our futures. Mary Whipple