The Last Crossing: A Novel [NOOK Book]

Overview


The Last Crossing is a sweeping tale of breathtaking quests, adventurous detours, and hard-won redemption. Englishmen Charles and Addington Gaunt are ordered by their tyrannical industrialist father to find their brother Simon, who has gone missing in the wilds of the American West. Charles, a disillusioned artist, and Addington, a disgraced military captain, set off to remote Fort Benton on the edge of the Montana frontier. The brothers hire the enigmatic Jerry Potts, a half Blackfoot, half Scot guide, to lead ...
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The Last Crossing: A Novel

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Overview


The Last Crossing is a sweeping tale of breathtaking quests, adventurous detours, and hard-won redemption. Englishmen Charles and Addington Gaunt are ordered by their tyrannical industrialist father to find their brother Simon, who has gone missing in the wilds of the American West. Charles, a disillusioned artist, and Addington, a disgraced military captain, set off to remote Fort Benton on the edge of the Montana frontier. The brothers hire the enigmatic Jerry Potts, a half Blackfoot, half Scot guide, to lead them North, where Simon was last seen. Addington takes command of the mission, buying enough provisions to fill two wagons, and hires sycophantic journalist Caleb Ayto to record the journey for posterity. As the party heads out, it grows to include the fiery Lucy Stoveall, Civil War veteran Custis Straw, and saloonkeeper Aloysius Dooley. This unlikely posse becomes entangled in an unfolding drama that forces each one of them to confront personal demons. Told from alternating points of view with vivid flashbacks, The Last Crossing is a novel of ruggedness and salvation, an epic masterpiece set in a time when worlds collided, were destroyed, and were built anew.
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
The stories, for example, of John Rowand of the Hudson's Bay Company and ''Rowand's Folly'' (his three-story log house, with a gallery and an immense ballroom), of Rowand's bizarre funeral procession back and forth across the Atlantic, his corpse pickled in rum, and of the voyageurs who drank the rum along the way, have little to do with the novel's careful interlocking of narrative pieces but everything to do with a baroque love of history and its freakish incongruities. So we get both a tour guide and a parody of tour guides in the padded-with-arcana middle portion of the book. Epic novels can be loose, baggy monsters, but this one is stuffed with enough goodies to keep us entertained for days. —John Vernon
The Washington Post
The Last Crossing is assured and impassioned, brutal and tender, a convincing re-creation of its milieu, a sharp group portrait of its characters. At one point Charles worries that he might be one of those artists who excel at sketching the background only to falter when it's time to add the forefront that gives the painting its reason to be. As a novelist, Guy Vanderhaeghe does justice to it all: distance, closeups and all the shadings in between. — Dennis Drabelle
The New Yorker
Centered on three English brothers who venture to the American West—one as a missionary, the two others in pursuit when he disappears—this saga encompasses a wide range of characters through alternating narrative voices. In a panorama of late-nineteenth-century Montana and western Canada, Vanderhaeghe details the lawlessness of the early frontier towns and the desperate ferocity of the dying indigenous tribes. He dwells with particular pathos on the children of white traders and Native American women, who are caught between two cultures. The prose can be overripe, particularly in the opening chapters, and moments of historical exposition are clumsily inserted. However, the sweep of the narrative gradually overcomes these missteps, and as the various searches for revenge or redemption get under way the writing achieves unforced grace and power.
Publishers Weekly
This sweeping epic novel of the search for a lost Englishman in the raw Indian territories of the U.S.-Canadian Western borderlands in the late 19th century was a Canadian bestseller and award-winner last year, but has only just made it here. That's puzzling, for Vanderhaeghe (The Englishman's Boy) is a prodigiously gifted writer who makes the West, its fierce weathers, rugged landscapes and contrary characters come to life in a way comparable to McMurtry at his best. He tells of the disappearance on the prairie of a wealthy and idealistic young Englishman, Simon Gaunt, in the company of a devious missionary who is later found dead. Simon's tyrannical father sends brothers Charles and Addington to see if they can find out what happened to him and if, by chance, he is still alive. The dreamy, artistic Charles and the preening, choleric Addington get together with a Scots-Indian half-breed, Jerry Potts (a real person of the time), as their guide and set out into a wilderness inhabited only by warring Indian tribes and rogue traders selling them whiskey. They are accompanied by Lucy Stoveall, a tough beauty in search of the renegades who raped and murdered her young sister, and Custis Straw, a battered Civil War veteran desperately in love with her. Their adventures are pulse-poundingly exciting and graphic, and if the book has a fault it is that it is almost overstuffed with drama and incident. A pair of brilliant set pieces-Straw's memories of a bloody Civil War battle, and a murderous encounter between warring Indian tribes-are not really essential to the narrative, and the elegiac ending seems oddly off-key. But the book's rewards far transcend these excesses, and no reader once embarked on this hugely involving adventure will be able to stop until it is done. 8-city tour. (Feb.) Forecast: Stressing the book's huge success in Canada and playing up the glowing tributes to Vanderhaeghe from the likes of Richard Ford and Annie Proulx should help alert customers to the arrival here of a major talent far too little known. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An ambitious sixth outing from the Saskatchewan author who has twice won Canada's Governor General's Award (for Man Descending, 1985, and The Englishman's Boy, 1997). The search for a missing brother adds a mythic dimension to Vanderhaeghe's complex plot, initiated by the mission imposed by wealthy Victorian industrialist Henry Gaunt on his sons Charles, a painter of little accomplishment and no renown, and Addington, a reckless former soldier best remembered for his considerable responsibility for a massacre of Irish "rabble." The brothers are to scour the American and Canadian northwestern territories (the year is 1871) and locate Charles's twin Simon, who has disappeared during his mission accompanying Reverend Obadiah Witherspoon, who means to convert "savages" to Christianity. Once the Gaunts are thus engaged, the author introduces his lusty, raucous other major characters-all, in their own ways, seekers-many of whom function also as narrators. There's fur and whiskey to be traded, land to be seized, and stories to be told, by such wanderers as: Civil War veteran Custis Straw, resourceful American journalist Caleb Ayto, and devious tavernkeeper Aloysius Dooley, plucky Lucy Stoveall, who's determined to avenge the murder of her young sister Madge, and-the story's most haunting character-half-breed guide Jerry Potts (a real historical figure), who crystallizes in his own nature and history the experiences common to them all, of division, alienation, and rootlessness. There's an almost Platonic articulation of divisions and mirrorings thus working among Vanderhaeghe's gallery of opportunists and misfits-who are nevertheless brought unforgettably to life by this consistently surprisingnarrative's deft re-creation of its remote milieu. The novel's expanse is chronological as well, reaching back to the Gaunt twins' youth in which they shared their dreams and sensed their differences, and forward to Charles's later meditations on how his great adventure has altered, as well as validated, his life. Sumptuously imagined and fashioned with a master craftsman's attentiveness and finesse. Brilliant work. First printing of 35,000; author tour. Agent: Dean Cooke/Cooke Agency, Toronto
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555847517
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/1/2007
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 274,027
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author


Guy Vanderhaeghe is the author of six books of fiction including The Englishman’s Boy (1996), which was a longtime national bestseller in Canada and won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the Saskatchewan Book Award for Fiction and for Best Book of the Year, and was short-listed for The Giller Prize, and the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Vanderhaeghe is a Visiting Professor of English at S.T.M. College in Saskatchewan, Canada.
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Read an Excerpt

Set in the second half of the nineteenth century, in the American and Canadian West and in Victorian England, The Last Crossing is a sweeping tale of interwoven lives and stories
Charles and Addington Gaunt must find their brother Simon, who has gone missing in the wilds of the American West. Charles, a disillusioned artist, and Addington, a disgraced military captain, enlist the services of a guide to lead them on their journey across a difficult and unknown landscape. This is the enigmatic Jerry Potts, half Blackfoot, half Scottish, who suffers his own painful past. The party grows to include Caleb Ayto, a sycophantic American journalist, and Lucy Stoveall, a wise and beautiful woman who travels in the hope of avenging her sister’s vicious murder. Later, the group is joined by Custis Straw, a Civil War veteran searching for salvation, and Custis’s friend and protector Aloysius Dooley, a saloon-keeper. This unlikely posse becomes entangled in an unfolding drama that forces each person to come to terms with his own demons.

The Last Crossing
contains many haunting scenes – among them, a bear hunt at dawn, the meeting of a Métis caravan, the discovery of an Indian village decimated by smallpox, a sharpshooter’s devastating annihilation of his prey, a young boy’s last memory of his mother. Vanderhaeghe links the hallowed colleges of Oxford and the pleasure houses of London to the treacherous Montana plains; and the rough trading posts of the Canadian wilderness to the heart of Indian folklore. At the novel’s centre is an unusual and moving love story.
The Last Crossing is Guy Vanderhaeghe’s most powerfulnovel to date. It is a novel of harshness and redemption, an epic masterpiece, rich with unforgettable characters and vividly described events, that solidifies his place as one of Canada’s premier storytellers.

Author Biography: Guy Vanderhaeghe was born in Esterhazy, Saskatchewan in 1951. He is the author of six books of fiction. His first two books were collections of short stories: Man Descending (1982), which won the Governor’s General’s Award, and the Faber Prize in the U.K., and The Trouble With Heroes (1983). My Present Age, a novel, was published in 1984 and was followed by Homesick in 1989. That novel was a co-winner of the City of Toronto Book Award. His third book of short stories was the highly praised Things As They Are? (1992). The Englishman’s Boy (1996) was a long-time national bestseller and won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the Saskatchewan Book Award for Fiction and for Best Book of the Year, and was shortlisted for The Giller Prize, and the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the world’s largest monetary award for a single book.
Acclaimed for his fiction, Vanderhaeghe has also written plays. I Had a Job I Liked. Once. was first produced in 1991, and won the Canadian Authors Association Award for Drama. His second play, Dancock’s Dance, was produced in 1995. He is currently completing a screenplay for The Englishman’s Boy.
Guy Vanderhaeghe lives in Saskatoon, where he is a Visiting Professor of English at S.T.M. College.

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Reading Group Guide

Set in the second half of the nineteenth century, in the American and Canadian West and in Victorian England, The Last Crossing is a sweeping tale of interwoven lives and stories

Charles and Addington Gaunt must find their brother Simon, who has gone missing in the wilds of the American West. Charles, a disillusioned artist, and Addington, a disgraced military captain, enlist the services of a guide to lead them on their journey across a difficult and unknown landscape. This is the enigmatic Jerry Potts, half Blackfoot, half Scottish, who suffers his own painful past. The party grows to include Caleb Ayto, a sycophantic American journalist, and Lucy Stoveall, a wise and beautiful woman who travels in the hope of avenging her sister's vicious murder. Later, the group is joined by Custis Straw, a Civil War veteran searching for salvation, and Custis's friend and protector Aloysius Dooley, a saloon-keeper. This unlikely posse becomes entangled in an unfolding drama that forces each person to come to terms with his own demons.

The Last Crossing
contains many haunting scenes – among them, a bear hunt at dawn, the meeting of a Métis caravan, the discovery of an Indian village decimated by smallpox, a sharpshooter's devastating annihilation of his prey, a young boy's last memory of his mother. Vanderhaeghe links the hallowed colleges of Oxford and the pleasure houses of London to the treacherous Montana plains; and the rough trading posts of the Canadian wilderness to the heart of Indian folklore. At the novel's centre is an unusual and moving love story.

The Last Crossing is Guy Vanderhaeghe's most powerful novel to date. It is a novelof harshness and redemption, an epic masterpiece, rich with unforgettable characters and vividly described events, that solidifies his place as one of Canada's premier storytellers.

1. The Last Crossing is set in the late nineteenth century, mostly in the American and Canadian west, with some scenes in England. We learn that the story unfolds in, and around, 1871 [p 11]. Yet some sections of the novel occur before this date, as with the section, narrated by Custis, about his experiences during the Civil War [pp 261-72]. Why does Vanderhaeghe cut back and forth between geographical locations and different times? Why does he choose to insert prior information through loops of memory? Why does he set his novel in this historical period?

2. Characters' names draw attention to themselves. Stoveall, Straw, Potts, and Gaunt resonate with meaning beyond proper names. Potts thinks that 'nothing exists for white men unless they give it a name in their own language' [p 8]. Later, Potts broods on his multiple names, including Bear Child and Mr. Moses [p 303]. Do names define character? If so, why do some characters have multiple names?

3. Simon Gaunt absconds to the west because he believes he can convert North American natives to spiritual enlightenment that is vaguely Christian and vaguely poetic in nature. Should we interpret Simon's mission as misguided, historically informed, obstinate, ethically suspect, or psychologically deluded? Moreover, should we understand Simon's relation to the bote as an expression of his spirituality or as an expression of his sexuality?

4. Songs dot The Last Crossing. Addington Gaunt sings about prostitutes in the Burlington Arcade [p 26]. The Kelso brothers taunt Lucy and Madge by singing 'Buffalo girls' [p 189]. Charles remembers a ribald song about the king and queen [p 201]. A kissing song is sung during the dance at Fort Edmonton [p 290] and, afterwards, Addington sings a song about buffalo in a monotonous voice [p 294]. Why does Vanderhaeghe include these songs? Why do these songs often express demeaning sentiments–usually about women?

5. Charles fears his father and yet writes to him in order to appease him. He claims that he cannot escape the 'golden cage' [p 201] created for him by his father. Yet Henry Gaunt, after his stroke, turns out to be a relatively tame, if paranoid, old man. Does the power of the father exist in the minds of the sons? How does Jerry Potts's relation to his three white fathers parallel Charles's relation to his father? And how does Potts's relation to his son Mitchell parallel Charles's belated understanding that he too is a father? In what senses is The Last Crossing about the relation of fathers and sons?

6. Custis Straw thinks about the Bible frequently. He claims he first read the Bible '‘to make myself believe every single word was true. The second time I read it to satisfy myself it was all a lie. Now I read it to weigh both sides, and find some truth'' [p 260]. Often he meditates on Moses leading his people out of tyranny and into the Promised Land. How do Biblical stories, and especially tales about Moses, underlie and inform The Last Crossing? Does the Bible offer truthful or mythic stories to Custis' imagination? How does Potts's version of Moses and Pharoah, whom he mistakenly calls Far Away [pp 187-88], alter interpretation of the Mosaic story?

7. Simon and Charles are twins. Why does Vanderhaeghe choose to represent the brothers as twins? Why does one twin flee the other? Why is one a mystic and one a painter? Why does Simon resist all of Charles's importunate demands to return to England? How does the motif of twins reflect on Potts's native and white duality? Why does Charles call himself the 'left twin' [p 157]?

8. Narration frequently breaks into first-person monologues, heralded by an italicized name: Charles, Lucy, Custis. For example, Charles narrates chapter 5 [pp 29-39], whereas Custis narrates the opening of chapter 6 [pp 40-45]. While giving access to specific memories and versions of events, this style of narrative also might omit certain kinds of information. What is omitted? Why does Vanderhaeghe choose to narrate Jerry Potts's sections in third-person indirect discourse rather than in first-person, testimonial style?

9. Several letters are, or are not, delivered in the course of The Last Crossing. Custis writes to Charles. Charles sends reports to his father. Charles writes to Lucy. Why do people choose to communicate through letters, as when Charles, heading back to England, sends a letter to Lucy via Custis [pp 363-65]? What does Aloysius Dooley's letter reveal that his first-person narratives do not reveal [pp 375-76]? What motivates characters to write rather than speak or narrate? Why does Vanderhaeghe include letters in The Last Crossing?

10. Why do so many women vanish in The Last Crossing? Pearl, a whore, disappears [pp 26-27]. Madge dies. Eunice Gaunt dies in childbirth [p 33]. Mary, taking Mitchell with her, leaves Jerry. Why do so few of the relations between men and women work out well in the novel? Why must Lucy give birth to her daughter outside of Charles's and the reader's knowledge?

11. A lot of characters die in The Last Crossing: Addington Gaunt, Henry Gaunt, Jerry Potts, Titus Kelso, Custis Straw, Blackfoot warriors, Civil War soldiers. Why are some deaths narrated and some not? What point of view is adopted to narrate death, in, for instance, the grizzly bear's attack on Addington? Why do characters want to sup with the dead [p 229]?

12. The Last Crossing depicts several battle scenes: Custis fights in the Civil War; the Cree and the Blackfoot battle each other; Addington boxes with Custis; Custis shoots Titus in his whisky cave. How do these battles reflect on each other? What are the battles about? What is won or lost by fighting?

13. Many characters fall ill in this novel and use different sorts of medicine. Straw suffers from migraines (or 'megrim'), and has a lengthy, undiagnosed illness. Addington has tertiary syphilis. How does Dr. Bengough's medicine differ from Potts's medicine bag? Are illnesses only of the body? Why does Custis call the frontier between the American west and the British colonies the 'Medicine Line' [p 147]?

14. Why does Aloysius Dooley, hotel proprietor, demonstrate such loyalty and friendship to Custis Straw? What binds the two characters together?

15. Epic narratives often deploy common motifs, such as the founding of a city or nation, battles, visits to the underworld. In what ways is The Last Crossing an epic? If it is an epic, how does it reflect on the founding of a nation?

16. What does the title of the novel refer to? What is the last crossing? What is crossed? Why is the crossing the last one?

17. The Last Crossing contains tall tales, including the preposterous, amusing (and in reality debatedly authentic) story about John Rowand, the tyrant who commanded Fort Edmonton for the Hudson's Bay Company. Rowand's body, allegedly pickled in rum, crosses the Atlantic twice before it is buried in Quebec [p 284]. Simon, as a follower of Reverend Witherspoon, believes another sort of tall tale. Are any of the tales in this novel not tall? What effects does exaggeration create? What actions do tall tales instigate? Does the tallness of a tale mitigate its credibility or authenticity? Why does Custis, referring to drifters cast up after the Civil War, mention 'pitiful stories way too big for their sorry selves' [p 41]?

18. Why do so many people chase each other in The Last Crossing? Lucy pursues the Kelso brothers, because she thinks they have murdered Madge. Charles chases Simon. Custis chases Lucy. Aloysius follows Custis. Aloysius calls this sequence 'a game of fox and hounds' [p 120]. Why does Vanderhaeghe structure this novel around a series of displacements and chases? Why do people bestir themselves in order to chase others? How does Simon's refusal to return to London call the bluff of the chase? Who does or does not leave a trail? Why are so many Canadian novels about chasing others through the untamed wilderness?

19. Would Canada exist without trading companies and the British military? How does Vanderhaeghe write Canadian history in The Last Crossing, specifically the history of the west? Why does he draw attention to Ayto's writing up of Addington's exploits, as well as Charles's drawing of Addington in military postures? Is military history the real history of Canada, or does history lie beyond the military? More specifically, how does Addington's bloodthirsty hacking down of Irish peasants [p 23] affect the representation of the British military?

20. Charles continues to draw and paint portraits, yet publishes a volume of love poetry to some acclaim. How does this fulfil, or deny, Simon's suggestion that Charles yearns for love [p 155], and, by extension, that Charles must learn about love in order to draw? Why does Charles switch from painting to poetry, as different artistic pursuits, in his middle age?

21. Wild West tales take for granted that constitutional forms of justice and law do not hold sway in frontier towns. Vigilante justice or revenge takes precedence over legislation and jurisprudence. Judge Daniels imprisons Custis without a writ of habeas corpus [pp 44-45]. Later, Custis shoots Titus Kelso, an administration of justice performed out of self-defence, but a form of justice that also seems to avenge Madge's death. How does Vanderhaeghe represent justice in The Last Crossing? Does justice differ according to race? Whereas Addington proves to be Madge's murderer, he receives no legal meting out of justice, but justice of a different sort. Is this justice really just?

22. Charles Gaunt and Ayto debate whether the pen is mightier than the sword [pp 142-43]. Which is mightier, according to evidence proffered in The Last Crossing?

23. Simon suffers from 'romanticism' [p 153]. How does his romanticism–the reading of Rousseau and Arnold, the taking of moonlit walks from Oxford to London–lead him astray? Why does Vanderhaeghe not tell us exactly what becomes of Simon? Is romanticism, as an ideology, really so destructive?

24. Jerry Potts curses comically in English [p 231]. Custis, whose name half suggests some kind of curse, swears that his first wife Louella would have died cussing him if she had had the voice to do so [p 261]. What is a curse? Why is a curse formed in language? Are some characters cursed in the novel and others not? Can anything remedy a curse?

25. Some characters have dreams or visions in The Last Crossing. Lucy dreams about Charles [p 193], as well as a dog [p 318]. Addington sees his mother in a vision [p 308]. Should we interpret these dreams and visions as delusions or as prophesies? Do they lead characters astray or guide them to just action?

26. Several characters in The Last Crossing have a hybrid or conjoined identity. Potts is half-native and half-Scottish. The Sutherland boys are likewise half-white and half-native. Aloysius is an Irish-American. Simon and Charles have a mixed identity because they are twins and because they travel to North America. Is identity ever free of hybridity? Who suffers for living between cultures, languages, and identities?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2003

    Not Your Typical Western but a Classic Tale

    Guy Vanderhaeghe's The Last Crossing is one of the most beautiful, moving books I have read this year. The action centers around a series of inter-related quests - for a missing brother, for love, for revenge, and for reclaimed dignity. Each of the major & minor characters in the book is drawn with such precision and feeling that the action often seems foreordained or a by-product of their natures. The language and tone of the book recapture the feel of a stately turn-of-the century novel. The exposition is told from the perspectives of each of the characters in turn - a device that might seem to be confusing but in Vandehaeghe's hands is marvelously compelling and right. ----The main plot of the book centers around Englishmen Addington & Charles Gaunt seeking their lost brother on the northern plains in the late 19th century. Their entourage picks up various others on the way, each of whom is seeking their own release on the journey. The ending is a shocking, yet fitting, climax to these various strands. --- This book is beautifully written and packs a powerful punch. The book is not yet available in the States but is well worth seeking out from Canada.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 11, 2012

    excellent historical fiction. a great read. I highly recommend

    excellent historical fiction. a great read. I highly recommend it to all readers of fiction, historical or other wise.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2010

    Another lost Canadian

    Guy Vanderhaeghe is one more example of a hidden Canadian treasure. This highly evocative tale ended much too soon. This one goes on my short list of all-time favorites.

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  • Posted August 15, 2010

    Snoozer...

    The entire beginning is written in three and four word sentences. Over and over. And over and over. So boring, I only lasted a few pages and tossed the book, so I don't know (or care) what the rest of it was like.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2008

    Highly entertaining

    I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and their interaction with one another as told by this author. Unpredictable and compelling I looked forward to getting down to it and finding Simon. I read for entertainment and I was not disappointed. I particularly liked the characters speaking in first person, I felt I knew Lucy Stovell and understood her. What a woman!

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