Crimes Against My Brother
By David Adams Richards
Doubleday Canada, 2014.
400 pages, $32.95
“The snow swirled in the great sky above them, covering up all paths along the great hills. It was as white as the purest soul, and as scattering as gossip.” —David Adams Richards,
Crimes Against My Brother
The latest book by Giller-winner David Adams Richards, Crime Against My Brother, revisits the author’s vivid small-town, east coast setting with a slew of characters —some familiar and much-loved, some new and provoking. The story begins with three youths making a blood-brother pact while stranded up on Good Friday Mountain during a winter storm. It is a pact of loyalty to each other and a renunciation of God. What ensues is a tale of betrayal that spans a couple of decades. Betrayal that is initially based on rumours, lies, and misconceptions. Betrayal that leads to infidelity, theft, and revenge. Betrayal that scars the soul and taints the lives of three blood brothers —Ian, Harold, and Evan— and those they touch.
Once again, Richards takes a moralist stance in his writing. He compares this pact with friends to a resolute pact with God. Their blood-brother pact was doomed from the start, because a pact among men is not as strong (apparently) as a pact with the Almighty. Sydney Henderson (a beloved character in Richards’s Mercy Among the Children) is a God-loving soothsayer offering warnings that are ignored by the three youths. That said, fans of Richards should not expect the same magical feel that Sydney evoked in this new story. His appearance in Crimes Against My Brother is fleeting, and most of the main characters behave desperately on misguided instincts. None of them display Sydney’s compelling, resolute principles. I cringed and felt sorry for the trio during their downward spiral, but I never seemed to root for them either. Their dark thoughts lead to unfathomable actions and anguish that test their renunciation of God. Coincidentally, after two work-related accidents and a fight, the three men each suffer from a back injury. An old fellow remarks on this twist of fate, stating, “What do you think of that? … It’s like they have to carry their crosses from now on.” Is this old man expressing the author’s view and intent? Possibly. One thing is certain: their sins are grave and forever link them together.
Although l lacked sympathy for Ian, Harold, and Evan, I did enjoy this novel. I love Richards’s style —lyrical, incorporating stark, natural elements in his narrative to heighten our understanding of his characters’ emotions and predicaments. His gift of weaving scenes from different time periods with objects —a travelling trunk, a bottle of rum, or an industrial wrench— gives his story more depth. At times the narrative is overwrought with happenstance, when characters are coincidentally entwined in the same events at the same time. This recurrence is somewhat distracting. Also off-putting was the way the narrator —a sociology professor from the town with limited contact with the characters— had an omniscient grasp of all the characters’ thoughts and feelings at every moment. Still, I seemed to put those annoyances aside to enjoy the unravelling story and its conclusion.
At one point, one of the narrator-professor’s students sums of the feel of this small-town tragedy quite beautifully by saying, “Who the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad.” Indeed, lies and hurt stirred up by evil-doers lead to madness in Crimes Against My Brother. Whether or not they are all destroyed in the end —well, you’ll just have to read to find out.