Crimes Against My Brother by David Adams Richards

In the interest of full disclosure, I want to say that I have loved every book by David Adams Richards I’ve ever read. I collect his books like I used to collect posters years ago to hang on my bedroom wall.

The stories and characters Richards creates leave you pining for more. He is in my opinion one of our greatest Canadian literary treasures.

There is an authenticity in the voices and the people he crafts, a gritty honesty that needles you like nothing else but good fiction can. His characters stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. They haunt you with their hopes, dreams and folly.

As a reader, I wonder if he captures his characters so completely because he’s been in their shoes, lived their lives, found some peace and now recounts these tales in his fiction as a kind of exorcism. I can’t help but wonder which of his characters he has fashioned after himself.

As a writer, I know I haven’t experienced everything I’ve ever written about and I also know none of the characters I’ve developed are me. I write mostly fiction, as defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary as: written stories about people and events that are not real, literature that tells stories which the writer imagines.

Loneliness, defeat, and tragedy happen to all of us. You don’t have to be in every fire to know it’s hot. But if you want your reader to feel the singe of heat, and smell the burning of the flesh you better be good at your craft. And that’s what Richards seems to be. In case it doesn’t show, I am in awe of him.

In his latest novel, Crimes Against My Brother, Richards introduces us to three main characters, cousins Evan Young, Ian Preston and Harold Dew and folds other characters from his previous novels, including, Sydney Henderson from Mercy Among the Children and Markus Paul from Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul.

Stuck in a snowstorm and knowing no one is searching for them Evan, Ian and Harold vow to be blood brothers, relying only on each other and no one else. They survive the storm, but life in this impoverished New Brunswick town with its propensity for gossip and desperate need for money will conspire against them. Other characters will steer the lives and actions of the boys who grow into men in the book. There is Annette Brideau, desperate to make something of herself. And there is the scheming, Lonnie Sullivan to name a few.

An omniscient narrator recounts the story of the cousins. He is someone who left the community long ago and has come back to teach at the university. In fact, the actions and decisions of the three main characters is what the narrator’s class is studying. The narrator’s bright students will struggle with the actions of Evan, Ian and Harold and in this way Richards shows the contrast between those who have and those who have not. He doesn’t hit you over the head with this, but you can’t help but see that this is an important theme in much of his work, this novel being no exception.

Richards gives us glimpses into a poverty many of us have never experienced. And what is a story if it doesn’t also speak to larger social issues. Richards does this well in Crimes Against My Brothers, showing us the impact of actions taken by the protagonists, and also those taken by ruthless governments and corrupt corporations.

I know. Heavy or what? It all sounds rather depressing. To be fair, it is a tale of tragedy. Aristotle argued that tragedy cleansed the heart. Crimes Against My Brothers does exactly that by showing us the suffering and leaving us with the hope that what we humans destroy through betrayal and foolishness, we can also fix with time and hindsight.

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