Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Reckoning of Boston Jim

The Reckoning of Boston Jim by Claire Mulligan (Brindle and Glass 2007)

A reckoning is a settling of accounts – the tallying of a balance sheet. It is also, in the biblical sense, an accounting of one’s life. Claire Mulligan’s first novel is the story of many such reckonings, a story of bonds, and of the quest for balance.

Boston Jim Milroy (if that is his real name) is a protagonist of Byronic proportions. He is haunted by memories which are all too vivid, and by those he cannot quite recall. His body is indelibly and mysteriously scarred, and, he believes, cursed as well. He is a former Hudson’s Bay man, and now a lone trapper subsisting at the edges of a burgeoning colony in a sort of self-imposed exile.

It is midway through the nineteenth century, and life is hard on the wild British Columbian coast. So when Boston Jim unwittingly suffers the simple kindness of Dora Hume, he becomes obsessed with the notion of recompensing her for the deed, proving "once an exchange is made it creates a bond, however tenuous."

His quest manages to land him in jail, endure a beating, and eventually drive him north along the unfinished Cariboo Wagon Road to safeguard and retrieve the bumbling, pompous, and pitiful Eugene Augustus Hume – the only suitable compensation for the woman Dora, according to Boston Jim’s reckoning.

The writing is lush and vivid in its detail. It carefully evokes a world precariously poised between old and new, civilization and savagery. It is a world in flux, and oftentimes out of balance. In fact, Boston Jim’s struggle for reckoning is but a microcosm for the larger problems of humanity, and, as such, his tragic attempt to restore that balance.

Unfortunately, a perfect reckoning is not always with our grasp. And herein lies the strength of this novel. Replete with many truisms, The Reckoning of Boston Jim doles out its justice blindly. Good guys do not always win, and bad guys do not always receive their just desserts. Instead, in Mulligan’s own words, "our world cracks into great unequal pieces."

1 comment:

John Mutford said...

I love the honesty that is implied by your last paragraph.