By Michael Crummey
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780618145317, 352pp.)
Publication Date: June 2002
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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In a masterly debut, the award-winning poet and short-fiction writer Michael Crummey crafts a haunting novel set on the rugged coast of Newfoundland at the turn of the nineteenth century. Told in elegant, sensual prose, RIVER THIEVES Thieves is a richly imagined, historically provocative story about love, loss, and the heartbreaking compromises -- both personal and political -- that undermine lives.
In 1810, David Buchan, a naval officer, arrives in the Bay of Exploits with orders to establish contact with the Beothuk, or "Red Indians," the aboriginal inhabitants of Newfoundland, who are facing extinction. When Buchan approaches the area's most influential white settlers, the Peytons, for advice and assistance, he enters a shadowy world of allegiances and old grudges that he can only dimly apprehend. His closest ally, John Peyton Jr., maintains an uneasy balance between duty to his father -- a domineering patriarch with a reputation as a ruthless persecutor of the Beothuk -- and his troubled conscience. Cassie, the fiercely self-reliant and secretive woman who keeps the family house, walks a precarious line of her own between the unspoken but obvious hopes of the younger Peyton, her loyalty to John Senior, and a steadfast refusal to compromise her independence. When Buchan's peace expedition into "Indian country" goes awry, the rift between father and son deepens and begins to divide those closest to them.
Years later, when a second expedition to the Beothuk's winter camp mounted by the Peytons leads to the kidnapping of an Indian woman and the murder of her husband, Buchan returns to investigate. As the officer attempts to uncover what really happened at the Red Indians' lake, the delicate web of obligation and debt that holds together the Peyton household -- and the community of settlers on the northeastern shore -- slowly unravels.
The tragedy of miscommunication and loss among these colonists living in a harsh environment in a crude, violent age prefigures and in some sense is seen as the cause of the more profound loss, that of an entire people. An enthralling story of great passion and suspense, vividly set in the stark Newfoundland landscape and driven by an extraordinary cast of characters, RIVER THIEVES captures both the vast sweep of history and the intimate lives of those caught in its wake.
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.
"...brilliantly constructed, immensely moving debut novel..." Kirkus Reviews
"[Crummey's] story seeps into a reader's consciousness and lodges there, to be remembered long after the last page is turned." --Judith Freeman The Washington Post
"Vibrantly written and uniquely evocative . . ." --Robin Vidimos The Denver Post
". . . [N]oble and mysterious . . ." --Mark Rozzo The Los Angeles Times
"An impressive first novel . . . th writing, though spare and strong, is quietly, unobtrusively beautiful." --Judy Lightfoot Seattle Post-Intelligencer