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The Purchase by Linda Spalding

Post Date: November 12, 2012 by josiemounsey

Cast out from his Quaker community in 18th-century Pennsylvania, Daniel Dickinson strikes a Faustian bargain and heads west to the plantations of Western Virginia with his children and 15-year-old wife, who is not a wife, to live among slave owners in the hope of finding a place where his family can prosper.


Inexperienced in farming and the wiles of the local community, he inadvertently trades a horse and acquires a slave.  From that trade comes two deaths.  Stripped of the raiments of his faith, but still as much a Quaker as he has ever been, Daniel struggles with his conscience and fears for his own soul and those of his children.  As a character, Daniel never seems fully formed, a mere shadow, belonging nowhere.  But, this is where Spalding’s brilliant narration scores.  To make Daniel anything other than remote, vulnerable, drifting, unable to communicate effectively with his wife, his children, and neighbours, would have made the story contrived.  This leads to an interesting conundrum:  Is Daniel a flawed man, who has betrayed his own moral code and lost his way, or a deeply religious soul who puts his beliefs above all else?


The novel is rich in historical detail of life on the plantations.  Many poignant moments are written in simple language, infusing them with power.  An example is when Daniel’s eldest daughter, Mary, opens the door:  ‘… looking up at the sky, while the night pressed down, leaking its dark into their lives.’.  (p.215)


A minor criticism, and one common to most epic tales, is that the plethora of characters leads to confusion and inhibits narrative flow.


Although this powerful story of betrayal and belonging goes to many dark places, Spalding’s prose imbues it with beauty and depth, achieving a work of memorable brilliance.

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