rabbitprincess's Reviews > A Good Man

A Good Man by Guy Vanderhaeghe
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Nov 20, 11

bookshelves: from-me-to-me, oh-canada, signed-by-author
Recommended to rabbitprincess by: indirectly, Terry Fallis (through his Twitter feed)
Recommended for: fans of westerns, Cdn/US historical fiction, author's other work
Read from October 27 to November 20, 2011, read count: 1

Vanderhaeghe returns to the 19th century Canadian and American West for this book, which can be considered the third of a loose trilogy (the other books being The Last Crossing and The Englishman's Boy). The history featured here is of Sitting Bull and the Sioux, and how the Canadians/British and Americans differed (or perhaps did not differ) in their treatment of the First Nations. Readers do not need to know this history going in; all is explained very ably as the story progresses.

Meanwhile, Vanderhaeghe's fictional characters are all compelling. Northwest Mounted Policeman Wesley Case begins the book with an extract from his diary, setting the stage and promising the revelation of past secrets. We follow him through his stint at Fort Walsh, his dealings with Major Walsh (an impetuous, generous sort with regard to the First Nations who tells truth to power and whom Wesley feels compelled to keep out of excessive trouble), his adventures as a rancher in Montana and the troubles that ensue when romance starts to brew. Ada Tarr, the object of his affections, is a principled, pragmatic woman who will do what she has to in order to survive. And then there's Michael Dunne, originally hired by Ada's first husband to protect the family from a former client of his (the husband's), who then develops an unrequited crush on her and becomes a dangerously unhinged pursuer.

The writing is gorgeous and deserves extended contemplation and reflection. Some passages ought to be read multiple times before continuing. Battle scenes are vividly rendered, without too much gore, just enough to remind you that combat is not pretty. There is also a small dose of bawdy humour in this book, not too surprising given that the setting is the Wild West and it is not entirely civilized.

In addition to history, the book deals with morals and feelings of guilt and responsibility. The characters all strive to do what they feel is the right thing: Wesley wants to make it on his own without help from his wealthy father, Major Walsh wants to help the Sioux in spite of what his bosses say, Sitting Bull wants to help his people as well. Which of these, if any, is the titular "good man"? Someone asked Vanderhaeghe this question during an interview at the International Festival of Authors, and he said it is up to the reader to decide. Read the characters' stories, consider their situations, and pass your own judgement.

Recommended for fans of westerns, historical fiction set in Canada or the United States, and those who enjoyed Vanderhaeghe's other work.

This book first came to my attention via Terry Fallis, on his Twitter feed, and was eventually longlisted for the Giller Prize.
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Reading Progress

10/30/2011 page 192
48.0% "Very absorbing so far, although there are times when I have to step back and make sure I have the chronology of events clear."
11/02/2011 page 261
65.0% "Now I want to reread The Englishman's Boy to pick up all those Cypress Hills references."
11/14/2011 page 333
72.0% "Uh-oh, showdown a-looming."
11/20/2011 page 464
100.0% "Excellent! Will have to be reread soon (perhaps along with the other two books in his thematic trilogy)."

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