LISA MOORE has achieved critical acclaim for her previous novels, February and Alligator and her short story collection Open was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. With Caught, her latest book, I’m certain the accolades will continue.
Caught opens on the eve of main character David Slaney’s 25th birthday as he escapes from Springhill Penitentiary. He had been serving a five-year, two-day sentence for attempting to cruise from Columbia to Newfoundland with two tons of marijuana aboard. We follow Slaney’s escape with equal hopefulness and dread: one lucky break could save him; one wretched error sends him back to prison. As Slaney has learned “…the most serious mistakes are the easiest to make.”
Those dual forces of doom and exhilaration intensify as Slaney makes his way across Canada to reunite with his lost love, Jennifer, and his former partner in crime, Hearn. Every encounter Slaney has verges on the volatile—they are experiences fraught with menace and foreboding.
The momentum mounts from scene to scene and coast to coast, from Columbia to Mexico and back to Newfoundland. There’s a feeling that every character is either chasing something elusive, or is in turn being pursued. Though Moore draws people and scenes with economical precision, each leaves a lasting impression before being carried away by the steady pace of the novel. The introduction of Staff Sergant Patterson and his pursuit of Slaney ramps up the level of intensity and anxiety; Patterson’s promotion to Inspector hinges on him apprehending Slaney and his gang.
As Slaney makes his way to Vancouver, we learn the details of the next enterprise as well as the depth of the friendship between Slaney and Hearn. The story of their first ill- fated expedition is told through a series of flashbacks, with doomed black humour and a sense of inevitability. This carries through as we learn of RCMP surveillance of the group and the feeling that they are barely one scant step ahead of the law in their current enterprise.
A wild party sets the scene for Hearn and Slaney’s reunion and the planning of the next smuggling run. David is surprised when informed that there will be an extra crewmember on board the sailboat and not just the dissolute owner, Cyril Carter. The fact that it turns out to be Ada, Carter’s much younger and beautiful girlfriend, convinces Slaney that the trip will be jinxed. His objections are ignored and the plan proceeds.
Some of my favourite scenes are in the concluding chapters. Moore explores the beauty of the sea and Slaney’s appreciation of freedom and movement, completely. Everything goes according to plan as the crew picks up the cargo in Columbia and sets sail for home. Slaney’s opinion of Ada begins to soften and they enjoy some idyllic time onboard until a hurricane changes the course of the trip and the narrative. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will tell you the description of the storm is amazing.
I’ll also tell you to get a copy of Caught and be transported. This is a novel that you don’t want to put down. Parts of it will make you hold your breath in fear; others catch your breath at Lisa Moore’s skill as a novelist. I started reading slower as I neared the end in an attempt to prolong the beautiful depth of the narrative. She brings her characters to life in such a way that you feel their emotions as your own. Moore deserves praise for writing this book; I hope it comes.