Format: Trade Paperback, 384 pages
Publisher: Anchor Canada
ISBN: 978-0-385-66095-2 (0-385-66095-2)
Pub Date: July 31, 2007
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Growing up in a prominent lumber family in the Miramichi, brothers Will and Owen Jameson know little of the world beyond their town and the great men who work the forest, including their father. But as young men, the boys couldn’t be more different — where seventeen-year-old Will is headstrong and rugged, able to hold his own in the woods or in a fight, Owen, three years his junior, is literary and sensitive. What worries their mother Mary, however, is the prophecy told to her by a local woman upon Will’s birth: “that her first-born would be a powerful man and have much respect — but his brother would be even greater, yet destroy the legacy by rashness, and the Jameson dynasty [would] not go beyond that second boy.” She tries to laugh it off, but the prophecy becomes a part of local legend and hangs over the heads of the boys like a dark cloud.
When their father dies in a freak accident and the management of the Jameson tracts and company falters, Will, as the true inheritor of his father’s “shrewd mind and fists to match,” quits school to take over. He’s a strong leader of men, but perhaps too strong at times, and dies while clearing a log jam during a run. Reggie Glidden, Will’s best friend and the Push of the Jameson team, takes Owen under his wing, searching for any small sign that the younger boy has his brother’s qualities. But Owen knows his limitations and, after his brother’s death and then rejection by the girl of his dreams, Lula Brower, he joins the army and heads off to war hoping to get himself killed. Instead, he returns a decorated war hero.
Then he falls in love with the beautiful, childlike Camellia — the wife of Reggie Glidden — and soon Owen and Camellia find themselves watched on all sides, caught in the teeth of an entire town’s gossip and hypocrisy despite the innocence of their relationship. But for the community, it’s as if taking Owen Jameson — and therefore the whole Jameson family — down a peg or two will give them control over their changing world. Inexorably, Owen and Camellia are pulled into a chain of events that will end with death, disappearance, and a sensational trial.
At the same time, realizing his destiny, Owen takes over the family business and begins what will become the greatest cut in New Brunswick history, his men setting up camp on the notoriously dangerous Good Friday Mountain. The teamsters spend months in fierce ice and snow, daily pitting themselves against nature and risking their lives for scant reward, in the last moments before the coming of mechanization that will make them obsolete. This heroic, brutal life is all Meager Fortune, the camp keeper, knows. A good and innocent man, he shows unexpected resolution in the face of the betrayals of the more worldly men around him.
With The Friends of Meager Fortune, award-winning author David Adams Richards continues his exploration of New Brunswick’s Miramichi Valley, both the hard lives and experiences that emerge from that particular soil and the universal human matters that concern us all: the work of the hands and the heart; the nature of true greatness and true weakness; the relentlessness of fate and the good and evil that men and women do. It is a devastating portrait of a society, but it is also a brilliant commemoration of the passing of a world — one that cements David Adams Richards’ place as the finest novelist at work in Canada today.
From the Hardcover edition.
NOMINEE 2006 - Scotiabank Giller Prize
WINNER 2007 - Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (Canada & Caribbean)
A GLOBE & MAIL BEST BOOK OF 2006
“The Friends of Meager Fortune is a stark and unforgettable portrait of the war between humility and pride. This novel paints the shadows of a vanished past with magnificently hewn poetry.” — The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, jury comments
“In his depiction of this lost industry, woodsmen standing at the threshold of their occupation’s disappearance, David Adams Richards shows himself to be as powerful a writer as any you can name. . . . The heart of The Friends of Meager Fortune is joyful, a celebratory requiem. . . . The poetry of this magnificently hewn story reveals that pity and woe can be recovered with well-wrought words. The Friends of Meager Fortune is dazzling, melancholy and mesmerizing.” —The Globe and Mail
“You know you are in the hands of a master storyteller when you begin a new novel by award-winning author, David Adams Richards. . . . Richards is an expert at building and maintaining suspense — an early prophecy, numerous betrayals, a murder, a mysterious disappearance, questionable paternity, and a dramatic fire. All contribute to providing a compelling reality. . . . The reader shares the sense of greatness of man and beast and the accompanying sense of loss with their demise.” —The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton)
“The Friends of Meager Fortune is much more than a book noting the intimacies and actualities of the great logging traditions of our shared past. . . . Richards’s storytelling abilities allow him to superimpose upon that past the enormous foibles of human nature. . . . His is a book of a town, of a dynasty; a book of epic proportion. . . . The Friends of Meager Fortune is an excellent portrayal of the shallow pettiness of a society on the brink of change… The Friends of Meager Fortune only cements [Richards’s] name as an author unafraid to paint our history and supposed civility in the glaringcolours of a raw and often unwieldy humanity.” — Edmonton Journal
“A Steinbeck of a book. . . . One of the most remarkable achievements of this book is the delicate juggling of epic and intimate events.” —Calgary Herald
“Given his ear for a catchy phrase, Richards might easily have become a balladeer instead of a novelist…. There’s nothing meager about the (sic) Richards gift for storytelling. This sturdily crafted novel, on the long list for the Giller Prize, brings an obscure page of Canadian history to breathtaking, vivid life.” — The Gazette (Montreal)
“The Friends of Meager Fortune is both a profoundly moving account of the honourable few and a damning indictment of the famished many who ‘fill up their souls with the trinkets of life, instead of with life itself.’” — Guelph Mercury
“Life on the mountain is gritty and believable. The beer caps pounded into the cabin door, the precious photos pinned above bunks, horses with names like Miss Maggie Wade, teamsters mounted on loads of giant logs, racing down to (sic) the icy path to the river — all are unforgettable.” —Winnipeg Free Press
“After reading David Adams Richards' The Friends of Meager Fortune, I thank goodness I was born today…. As in many other Richards novels the lives of everyday people are elevated to a place of meaning, seen from the eye of an educated narrator who artfully creates a story of compelling inevitability.” — Toronto Star
“The world of The Friends of Meager Fortune is one of themes writ large, of good and evil, of honour and betrayal, of compassion and cruelty. It is classic storytelling, something too often missing from contemporary writing, a lack which we only fully recognize when startled by a novel of such range and daring as this.” — Ottawa Citizen
“For 30 years, Richards has been writing deeply moving stories set in northern New Brunswick with the kind of moral intensity that Thomas Hardy brought to Dorset. …That long, emotional investment gives his story the luster of legend, complete with prophesies of doom, a chorus of fickle townspeople ready to praise or pounce, and feats of physical labor so brutal you can't help but feel bruised just to read about them. … You'd have to go back to Steinbeck's farmers, Hurston's turpentine workers or Melville's whalers to find the kind of reverence Richards conveys for hard physical labor. … It's the kind of fearsome silence only the most powerful novels can leave.” —The Washington Post
From the Hardcover edition.
Born in 1950 in Newcastle, New Brunswick, David Adams Richards was the third of William and Margaret Richards’ six children. He found his calling at the age of fourteen, after reading Oliver Twist, and embarked on a life of extraordinary purpose, one which he says didn’t help his finances: “Sometimes … I thought it would be better if I were a plumber, but I wouldn’t be very good.”
At the age of twenty and after finishing his first novel, The Keeping of Gusties, Richards went in search of a community of writers. His quest ended when he met a group of academics at the University of New Brunswick. Richards would hitch-hike from his home in Newcastle to Fredericton every Tuesday night to meet with them and read from his work. The literary evenings were held on campus at McCourt Hall, in an outbuilding formally used to store ice. The group quickly became known as the Ice House Gang. There he received encouragement from established writers, including the late Alden Nowlan, whom he names as important influences along with Faulkner, Pushkin, Dostoevsky and Emily Brontë. It was during his time with these writers that Richards wrote two-thirds of his second novel, The Coming of Winter, which was published by Oberon Press in 1974.
In 1971, Richards married Peggy McIntyre. They spent the first years of their marriage travelling throughout Canada, Europe and Australia. It was on these long sojourns away from the Mirimachi that Richards found he could write about the home he loved, regardless of where he lived. As he continued to write, Richards took postings as writer-in-residence at universities in New Brunswick, Ontario, Alberta and at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. In 1997, they moved to Toronto, where they still live with their sons John Thomas and Anton.
The Miramichi region has continued as the heart of Richards’ fiction throughout his career. As he explained in an interview with January Magazine, his connection to the area and to the rural lives of its inhabitants is central to his fiction, yet does not reflect a limited scope: “It’s very important, because the characters come from the soil. They’re like the trees, in a certain respect. They cling to that river and that soil, but as Jack Hodgins once said about my writing — which was one of the kindest things any writer has said about my writing — he said: ‘David, you aren’t writing about the Miramichi Valley, you’re writing about Campbell River where I come from. Because every character you talk about is a character I’ve met here in Campbell River.’ And that’s basically what I’m doing. Of course my people are Miramichi. Of course they come from the fabric and the soil of the Miramichi but if that was the only thing that was interesting about them, I wouldn’t bother writing about them.”
The relocation to Toronto was not without its difficulties, though. As Richards documented in the memoir Lines on the Water, he loves fly-fishing on the Miramichi River. Yet once he was no longer a resident, he was unable to get a fishing licence for the region. Thankfully, said Richards, the local government proclaimed him an “honorary Miramichier” — “So I can go fishing. It was very nice of them and very touching.” He has also written a non-fiction book on the place of hockey in the Canadian soul, called Hockey Dreams.
Richards has received numerous awards and prizes throughout his career. Most notably, he is one of few writers in the history of the Governor General's Award to win in both the fiction (Nights Below Station Street) and non-fiction (Lines on the Water) categories. In addition to these two wins, he was nominated for Road to the Stilt House (in 1985), For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down (in 1993) and Mercy Among the Children (in 2000). Considered by many to be Richards’ most accomplished novel, Mercy was co-winner of the Giller Award in 2000, and was shortlisted for the Trillium Award and the Thomas Raddell award. It also won the Canadian Booksellers Association author of the year and fiction book of the year awards. Over the years, Richards has also won countless regional awards for his novels and was awarded the prestigious Canada-Australia Literary Prize in 1992.
Despite all of these successes, it was years before Richards made money at writing. He laughs at the sales of his early work: “For a long while if I sold 200 books, I’d be saying: Oh, great! And, you know, a $50 advance! That’s great. I only worked three years, I don’t know if I can spend $50.”
Also a screenwriter, Richards has adapted a number of his novels for the small screen. In 1990, he adapted his novel Nights Below Station Street, and in 1994 he penned the teleplay “Small Gifts,” for which he won his first Gemini. He won his second for his screen adaptation of For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down, and later co-wrote the screenplay for The Bay of Love and Sorrows, released as a feature film in 2002.
In addition to his twelve novels and two non-fiction books, Richards’ short stories and articles have been published in literary magazines and anthologies, plus he has two unpublished plays, The Dungarvan Whooper and Water Carriers, Bones and Earls: the Life of François Villon, and one unpublished novel, Donna. His literary papers were acquired in 1994 by the University of New Brunswick.
From the Hardcover edition.
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