River Thieves Pa


"Vibrantly written and uniquely evocative" (Denver Post), River Thievesis the riveting story of a group of European settlers of the New World in the early nineteenth century. The Peytons, their enigmatic housekeeper, and the men who manage their fishing and trapping concerns on the shores of Newfoundland live lives of punishing physicality, inarticulate longing, and violence. Their misunderstandings and compromises have tragic consequences not only for their own community but also for the Beothuk, or Red Indians, a people on the verge of

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River Thieves: A Novel

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"Vibrantly written and uniquely evocative" (Denver Post), River Thievesis the riveting story of a group of European settlers of the New World in the early nineteenth century. The Peytons, their enigmatic housekeeper, and the men who manage their fishing and trapping concerns on the shores of Newfoundland live lives of punishing physicality, inarticulate longing, and violence. Their misunderstandings and compromises have tragic consequences not only for their own community but also for the Beothuk, or Red Indians, a people on the verge of extinction. With penetrating insight, Michael Crummey captures both the vast sweep of history and the intimate lives of those caught in its wake.

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Editorial Reviews

Patrick Lane
The eloquent simplicity goes straight to the heart.
Toronto Star
Michael Crummey's Hard Light will catch and hold you in a place where the ocean is something you recognize
Alistair MacLeod
“This is a splendid novel reflective of a particular place and time. Michael Crummey is a tremendously gifted writer.
Globe and Mail
The pieces [in Hard Light] reflect artistic intelligence in their shape and rhythm and in their structural relation to the book as a whole… Each piece is resonant… Rich in specific detail
Quill & Quire
This is one of the finest first books I've come across... If Alistair MacLeod wrote poetry instead of stories, he might have written these poems.
National Post
The stories in Flesh and Blood [are] profoundly moving and convincing.
Kingston Whig-Standard
Like the pauses in a piece of music without which the notes would make no sense, the silences between the parents, children, spouses and lovers in Crummey's stories shape the meaning of their actions, desires and connection to each other… Crummey's stories, while honouring hard lives lived with patience, also have a quality of compacted richness.
Alistair MacLeod
This is a splendid novel reflective of a particular place and time. Michael Crummey is a tremendously gifted writer.
Publishers Weekly
Trudging across the same harsh, icy fictional terrain that's fired the imagination of such writers as William Vollman, Andrea Barrett and Wayne Johnston, Crummey, an award-winning poet (Arguments with Gravity), has produced a poetic but ponderous tale of the colonization of Newfoundland and the last days of its Beothuk Indians. As the novel opens in 1810, grim family patriarch and homesteader John Senior (his face looks "hard enough to stop an axe") has kept up a hostile standoff with the Beothuk for years. But John Senior's blood feud with the Indians doesn't sit well with his idealistic son, John, with his spirited housekeeper, Cassie, or with David Buchan, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy who organizes a peacekeeping expedition to the Indian territories. When the mission goes awry and two soldiers are left headless in the snow, John Senior and the settlers set out to exact their revenge on the natives. Fitting for a book about history and the mapping of a lost world, Crummey's story is shaped by the vagaries of memory, perpetually circling back on itself to fill in narrative and historical details. And as is sometimes typical of a first novel by a seasoned poet, Crummey's story struggles to maintain momentum, dilating at length on the meaning and limitations of language. Each Beothuk word that survives, he writes, "has the heft of a museum artifact." The same might be said of Crummey's prose ("Fat dripped into the fire, the smell of it darkening the air like a bruise") and his characters' stilted behavior, which gives rise to a panorama of Newfoundland history and mythology as carefully composed but as lifeless as a dusty museum diorama. (June 19) Forecast: Strong advance praise for Crummey's novel (from Charles Frazier, among others) and enthusiastic reviews in Crummey's native Canada (the book was nominated for the prestigious Giller Prize there) should ensure extensive review coverage and attention in the U.S.. Whether sales will keep pace remains to be seen. 3-city author tour. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
". . . [N]oble and mysterious . . ." --Mark Rozzo
Library Journal
In this first novel, conflict in a 19th-century Newfoundland household mirrors a larger crisis that leads to the extinction of the Beothuk Indians. Already an accomplished poet and short story writer, Newfoundland-born Crummey knows his territory and should have the skills to deliver. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A little-known historical atrocity-the extinction of the Beothuk ("Red") Indians of central Newfoundland-becomes an authentic tragedy in this brilliantly constructed, immensely moving debut novel by an award-winning Canadian poet and short-story writer. The narrative, which covers roughly the years 1811-20, is assembled from both the viewpoints and extended reminiscences of four characters: Indian-hating fisherman John Peyton and his less truculent son and namesake; their strong-minded, self-educated housekeeper Cassie Jure (who is also John Junior's tutor); and David Buchan, the thoughtful British naval officer who is assigned to map the coastland, then Crown property, and also to investigate rumors "that attacks of inhuman barbarity were being perpetrated against the Indians by settlers." The fate of the Beothuks is all the more powerfully communicated because Crummey's text barely registers their presence (they're virtual shadows passing into oblivion), concentrating the effects of the settlers' treatment of them in the figure of "Mary," a Beothuk woman abducted during a violent raid thereafter shrouded in defensive secrecy. Lieutenant Buchan's painstaking reconstruction of a concealed history of theft (both Indians and settlers are, in their separate ways, "river thieves") and murder is expertly juxtaposed with the several interconnected stories of the aforementioned major characters, each of whom exhibits thoroughly convincing heroic potential and unconquerable crucially damaging human failings. Furthermore, Crummey shifts the focus so skillfully that the reader's attention and sympathies are seized by, and buffeted among, Cassie's ferocious hunger for the full life so long deniedher; David Buchan's conflicted vacillations between duty and desire, sharpened by righteous anger; the elder John Peyton's ego-driven need to hold onto all he has left; and the sense of opportunities lost so stunningly encapsulated in young John Peyton's anguished final words: "All my life I've loved what didn't belong to me." There's a literary renaissance underway just north of us, and Crummey's quite literally astonishing debut novel is one of the brightest jewels in its crown.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618340712
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 6/4/2003
  • Edition description: None
  • Pages: 346
  • Sales rank: 988,203
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Crummey was born in Buchans, Newfoundland, and grew up there and in Wabush, Labrador. "The story of the Beothuk is something I've been aware of since I was a child, and that's true for most people in Newfoundland," Crummey says. "Many of the pivotal events between the Beothuk and the European settlers took place on Red Indian Lake, near my home. As I began doing research for the novel, I was drawn to the story of the Peytons, who played a crucial role in most of the interactions with the Beothuk in the decades leading up to their extinction. I was surprised by the starkly different attitudes father and son displayed towards the Beothuk. And I began writing a story that might account for some of those differences." Michael Crummey is the award-winning author of three books of poetry and a collection of short stories. River Thieves is his first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

The Face of a Robber’s Horse


have the face of a robber’s horse: to be brazen, without shame or pity. — Dictionary of Newfoundland English


It was the sound of his father’s voice that woke John Peyton, a half-strangled shouting across the narrow hall that separated the upstairs bedrooms in the winter house. They had moved over from the summer house near the cod fishing grounds on Burnt Island only two weeks before and it took him a moment to register where he was lying, the bed and the room made strange by the dark and the disorientation of broken sleep. He lay listening to the silence that always followed his father’s nightmares, neither of the men shifting in their beds or making any other sound, both pretending they weren’t awake.

Peyton turned his head to the window where moonlight made the frost on the pane glow a pale, frigid white. In the morning he was leaving for the backcountry to spend the season on a trapline west of the River Exploits, for the first time running traps without his father. He’d been up half the night with the thought of going out on his own and there was no chance of getting back to sleep now. He was already planning his lines, counting sets in his head, projecting the season’s take and its worth on the market. And underneath all of these calculations he was considering how he might approach Cassie when he came back to the house in the spring, borne down with furs like a branch ripe with fruit. A man in his own right finally.

When he heard Cassie up and about downstairs in the kitchen, he pushed himself out of bed and broke the thinlayer of ice that had formed over his bathing water and poured the basin full. His head ached from lack of sleep and from his mind having run in circles for hours. When he splashed his face and neck the cold seemed to narrow the blurry pulse of it and he bent at the waist to dip his head directly into the water, keeping it there as long as he could hold his breath.

The kettle was already steaming when he made his way down to the kitchen. Cassie was scorching a panful of breakfast fish, the air dense with the sweet smoky drift of fried capelin. He sat at the table and stared across at her where she leaned over the fire, her face moving in and out of shadow like a leaf turning under sunlight. She didn’t look up when he said good morning.

“Get a good breakfast into you today,” she said. “You’ll need it.”

He nodded, but didn’t answer her.

She said, “Any sign of John Senior?”

“I heard him moving about,” he said, which was a lie, but he didn’t want her calling him down just yet. It was the last morning he would see her for months and he wanted a few moments more alone in her company. “Father was on the run again last night,” he said. “What do you think makes him so heatable in his sleep like that?”

O unseen shame, invisible disgrace!” Cassie said. She was still staring into the pan of capelin. “O unfelt sore, crest-wounding, private scar!

Some nonsense from her books. “Don’t be speaking high-learned to me this time of the day,” he said.

She smiled across at him.

He said, “You don’t know no more than me, do you.”

“It’s just the Old Hag, John Peyton. Some things don’t bear investigating.” She turned from the fire with the pan of capelin, carrying it across to the table. She shouted up at the ceiling for John Senior to come down to his breakfast.

By the second hour of daylight, Peyton was packing the last of his provisions on the sledge outside the winter house while John Senior set about harnessing the dog. He was going to travel with Peyton as far as Ship Cove, a full day’s walk into the mouth of the river, but both men were already uncomfortable with the thought of parting company. They were careful not to be caught looking at one another, kept their attention on the details of the job at hand. Peyton stole quick glimpses of his father as he worked over the dog. He was past sixty and grey-haired but there was an air of lumbering vitality to the man, a deliberate granite stubbornness. Lines across the forehead like runnels in a dry riverbed. The closely shaven face looked hard enough to stop an axe. Peyton had heard stories enough from other men on the shore to think his father had earned that look. It made him afraid for himself to dwell on what it was that shook John Senior out of sleep, set him screaming into the dark.

His father said, “Mind you keep your powder dry."

“All right,” Peyton said.

“Joseph Reilly’s tilt is three or four miles south of your lines.”

“I know where Joseph Reilly is.”

“You run into trouble, you look in on him.”

“All right,” he said again. There was still a sharp ache in his head, but it was spare and focused, like a single strand of heated wire running from one temple to the other. It added to the sense of urgency and purpose he felt. He’d come across to Newfoundland ten years before to learn the trades and to run the family enterprise when John Senior was ready to relinquish it. His father electing not to work the trapline this year was the first dim indication of an impending retirement. Peyton said, “I won’t be coming out over Christmas.”

John Senior had set the dog on her side in the snow and was carefully examining her paws. “January then,” he said, without raising his head.

Peyton nodded.

His father took a silver pocket watch from the folds of his greatcoat. He was working in the open air with bare hands and his fingers were bright with blood in the morning chill. “Half eight,” he said. “You’d best say your goodbyes to Cassie. And don’t tarry.”
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