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The Purchase by Linda Spalding
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The Purchase (edition 2012)

by Linda Spalding

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1301492,561 (3.53)26
Member:Schatje
Title:The Purchase
Authors:Linda Spalding
Info:McClelland & Stewart (2012), Hardcover, 368 pages
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The Purchase by Linda Spalding

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The humanity and hypocrisy of pioneer life in early America

The year is 1798. Daniel Dickenson, the father of five children is a Quaker living in Pennsylvania. His wife has just died a few months after giving birth to his youngest son. He has taken on a young woman, Ruth Boyd, an orphan and a Methodist, on a bond of indenture to help with the family during this time. Rather than return her to the almshouse as the Elders insist he feels obligated to keep her. This results in him being banished.

He packs up his family along with Ruth Boyd whom he marries and undertakes a journey to Virginia to start a new life.

The story that unfolds in The Purchase by Linda Spalding is an authentic depiction of what life was like as a pioneer in early America and embraces religion, family, morality and slavery. It is a story of hypocrisy as well as humanity.

The title, The Purchase, refers to the protagonist’s inadvertent purchase of a young boy as a slave. Dickenson, being a Quaker, is an abolitionist, and struggles with this moral dilemma throughout the story. He acts like a slave owner, albeit an enlightened one and he benefits from slave labour, yet considers himself against slavery. This ambivalence is endemic in his character and impacts on his relationships with his family and his community.

Spalding has a population of characters and yet this reader was able to discern each one and while their motivations were complex they all were believable.

This book is seamlessly plotted and powerfully written with sparse yet elegant prose and though it works on many levels they’re all expertly woven together in an intricate mosaic.

Though a remarkable accomplishment it fell short of five stars for me because I couldn’t relate to any of the characters. The time, the society, the circumstances were just too unfamiliar. ( )
  RodRaglin | Jul 29, 2015 |
I guess I didn't understand the purpose of this book--probably not helped by a several month lapse between reading beginning & ending. Such a lot of families losing their mothers. Loss, it is all loss. Was this written to show how Quakers, supposedly such thoughtful people, can slide into betraying their beliefs? Somehow I couldn't believe in the reality, despite the descriptive language. ( )
  juniperSun | May 27, 2014 |
Solid conventional storytelling. Yet another angle on slavery in America, although no really new news: late 18th, early 19th century southwestern Virginia. The corrupted intimacy between black & white, men & women, owner & owned that transcends belief (Daniel Dickinson's origins are that of a Pennsylvania abolitionist Quaker, yet he becomes an owner of slaves in Virginia). ( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
What a book---it seemed all too real as a description of history and in reading Spalding's acknowledgements one can see why---she was writing a very historical but fictional account. She is wonderfully descriptive but it's also heartbreaking to look closely, at just the very few families in the book, to see what was happening throughout different parts of this country. Some of the characters are completely appealing, achingly so in their trials to live their lives. The ending could easily use a sequel but this writing has to been exhausting. ( )
  nyiper | Jan 26, 2014 |
You might say that Linda Spalding’s novel is about stewardship as Daniel Dickinson is ostracized from his Quaker community and attempts to exert his control over a new land settlement, his family, his beliefs about slavery, and his pride. Told from multiple perspectives, the novel will appeal to fans of Book of Negroes, historical fiction and Neo-Westerns.
  vplprl | Nov 15, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
The Purchase, an eerily compelling novel by Linda Spalding, has been nominated for the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction....Spalding’s omniscient narrator ferries us through time, accruing characters, sidling us in and out of their perspectives. Her descriptive passages are simple lists of images and elements that create their own mesmerizing lyricism. Her metaphors can be awkward: It is one thing to compare the way the slaves are treated to the way animals are treated; it is another to compare slaves to animals. She deepens meaning with literary allusions to Virgil and the Bible; this works well, but leads, I think, to a melodramatic climax involving a thwarted interracial love. The most famous slave literature, on the other hand, tends to dramatize the way slavery hinders black people from loving themselves. Still, the novel is memorable. It reads like a disturbing dream imbued with the power of myth.
 
This school of novel writing also renders great dollops of moody landscapes, and Spalding is not lacking in that respect, either. But The Purchase is more successful than most at carrying off this kind of writing, partly because of Spalding’s ability to blend narrative drive with genuinely evocative scene setting and partly because her historical material — a dark wilderness in a dark era — lends itself to Faulknerian exaggeration...The only indisputable good to come out of the adventures of the Dickinson family is that Daniel eventually learns to forgive. It is not a triumph blazoned in glory; it is a small gesture, but it is real. Otherwise readers are free to come to their conclusions. In so doing, they will find themselves immersed in a powerful mood, a feeling of something dark and brooding and yet bracing, in one of the finest historical novels in recent years.
 
The novel is shot through with religion – much of it focused on the struggle between Quaker humanism and the moral wilderness of the American South at the turn of the 19th century – and Spalding’s biblically rich prose is in heartbreaking harmony with her theme of freedom. What could it possibly mean to be free, the novel asks, if one’s life is so ferociously overdetermined, whether by God or the prevailing social order?

Spalding offers a powerful perspective on pains and oppressions that are specific to a time and place, though it reverberates into the present in uncomfortable ways. The immediacy and sense of recognition percolating through The Purchase makes this reader wonder just how long a shadow history casts on the present day.
 
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In memory of my brother Skip, son of Jacob, who was son of Boyd, who was son of Martin, who was son of John, who was son of Daniel Dickinson.
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Daniel looked over at the daughter who sat where a wife should sit.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
In this provocative and starkly beautiful historical novel, a Quaker family moves from Pennsylvania to the Virginia frontier, where slaves are the only available workers and where the family’s values and beliefs are sorely tested.

In 1798, Daniel Dickinson, recently widowed and shunned by his fellow Quakers when he marries his young servant girl to help with his five small children, moves his shaken family down the Wilderness Road to the Virginia/Kentucky border. Although determined to hold on to his Quaker ways, and despite his most dearly held belief that slavery is a sin, Daniel becomes the owner of a young boy named Onesimus, setting in motion a twisted chain of events that will lead to tragedy and murder, forever changing his children’s lives and driving the book to an unexpected conclusion.

A powerful novel of sacrifice and redemption set in a tiny community on the edge of the frontier, this spellbinding narrative unfolds around Daniel’s struggle to maintain his faith; his young wife, Ruth, who must find her own way; and Mary, the eldest child, who is bound to a runaway slave by a terrible secret. Darkly evocative, The Purchase is as hard-edged as the realities of pioneer life. Its memorable characters, drawn with compassion and depth, are compellingly human, with lives that bring light to matters of loyalty and conscience.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0771079354, Hardcover)

In 1798, Daniel Dickinson, a young Quaker father and widower, leaves his home in Pennsylvania to establish a new life. He sets out with two horses, a wagonful of belongings, his five children, a 15-year-old orphan wife, and a few land warrants for his future homestead. When Daniel suddenly trades a horse for a young slave, Onesimus, it sets in motion a struggle in his conscience that will taint his life forever, and sets in motion a chain of events that lead to two murders and the family's strange relationship with a runaway slave named Bett.

Stripped down and as hard-edged as the realities of pioneer life, Spalding's writing is nothing short of stunning, as it instantly envelops the reader in the world and time of the novel, and follows the lives of unforgettable characters. Inspired by stories of the author's own ancestors, The Purchase is a resonant, powerful and timeless novel.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:25 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Shunned by his Quaker community for marrying a servant girl, Daniel Dickinson pursues a new life on the Virginia frontier, where his family's values are tested by the challenges of homestead life and the moral dilemma of slave ownership.

(summary from another edition)

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