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The Purchase by Linda Spalding

The Purchase (edition 2012)

by Linda Spalding

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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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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
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 |
What happens when you are faced with betraying your principles and beliefs? Can it destroy your entire life? In Linda Spalding's The Purchase, her main character, Daniel, is a Quaker who mistakenly buys a slave after having his whole life already thrown into turmoil. But his purchase of another human being marks his life and all the future decisions in it like nothing else.

Opening with Daniel Dickinson, his new, young wife, and his five children leaving the Quaker settlement they call home after Daniel's shunning by the community for marrying his young servant after his wife's untimely death, the family leaves behind all that anchors them in life and sets out on a hard journey to a new home they must carve out of the western Virginia wilderness for themselves. That they are completely unequipped for this new life and will make mistake after mistake in this new place is immediately evident in the narrative. Daniel knows nothing about the woods around them; he is no farmer, and in fact seems fairly unskilled and uniformed about the hardships he's going to put his family and himself through. It is a fool's errand on which he has embarked and one that will spawn unrelenting misery and tragedy after tragedy. Daniel's poor choices are only compounded when he takes the only cash he has to a farm implement auction and instead of buying tools, ends up buying a slave named Onesimus, having to forfeit his favorite mare, a horse that was to help him establish his farm in order to pay for the slave he doesn't want. His intention of eventually earning enough money to buy back his horse and to free Onesimus, while morally righteous, is a plan even less well-conceived, given his general ineptitude for this harsh life, than his plan to move the family into the wilderness in the first place.

Unfolding slowly over a number of years, the narrative is told by a rotating cast of characters. It is hard to tell which character is intended to carry the story as just when the mind and motivation of the character narrating starts to come into focus, the novel changes perspective and moves on in time. Add to this the fact that none of the characters are particularly appealing, every last one of them accepts being a doormat at each turn, perhaps nurtured by patriarch Daniel's weak and frustrating passivity. He wants to hold onto his dearly held Quaker beliefs but instead of lending him a strength and stature, he becomes a pitiful mockery of a principled person, leading not only the other characters to be frustrated by him but also the reader as well. Certainly the life that the family leads is a hard, brutal, and uncivilized one but the tone of the entire novel is relentlessly grim and unbending. Daniel's flaws help to explain and justify his children's attraction and allure to violence at odds with his half-hearted teachings and make the resulting tragedies inevitable. But over all, the book does a good job showing the soul-destroying power of the frontier and the difficult life that anyone choosing to try and tame it would have faced. Historically the novel seems mostly accurate although one bit that was glaringly wrong to me and made me shake my fist at the sloppiness of the passage has a large green log being thrown onto a fire and immediately blazing with flame. This does not happen with green wood. Seasoned and aged? If the fire is hot enough to sustain a round log, sure. Green wood? Not a chance in this world. And while complaining about a detail like this might seem to be nitpicking, this is a time and a place where wood fires are vital to survival and so it's not an insignificant error. This is definitely not a novel for anyone looking for a story of redemption or hope and glimmers of humor or even contentment are completely missing as well. It is a depressing and downtrodden tale from first to last. ( )
  whitreidtan | Oct 28, 2013 |
This is a very well written book in terms of the plot, but I could not warm up to any of the characters, and all seemed to not develop. Daniel, a Quaker sets off for a new life in Virginia with his four children after his wife dies in childbirth and he is excommunicated for taking in an orphaned teenager to care for the children. He marries the girl, but life in Virgina threatens all of his Quaker beliefs - beginning with taking a slave, moving through becoming indebted to others, and lastly with his children settling with locals who are violent. ( )
  CarterPJ | Sep 7, 2013 |
Historically, The Purchase is fascinating as it combines several different elements of the country’s unique background. Daniel’s world is as unfamiliar to him as it is to modern readers, but it is Ms. Spalding’s succinct descriptions that allow readers to adapt and learn about this unfamiliar setting and lifestyle. The vastness of the world without towns, roads, or even neighbors plays in stark contrast to Daniel’s former life among the Quakers. The sheer number of issues Daniel faces upon his arrival at his new homestead emphasizes those differences. It is a world that is simultaneously very broad and yet very narrow and intriguing in both its possibilities and its limitations.

Daniel’s adoption of his new location provides readers with plenty of opportunities to learn about life on the Kentucky frontier and the hard-scrabble life that accompanies it. Surprisingly, Daniel has a fairly large number of neighbors, so the isolation that one associates with pioneering is not quite the issue it might have been. Then again, it is the interactions with these neighbors that cause a majority of the tension. Alongside frontier living is the element of slavery. Of particular interest is the idea that most of Daniel’s neighbors own slaves because of necessity and not because of any firm belief in the practice. With few inhabitants in the area and a constant battle for survival against a wilderness that does not want to be tamed, one or two slaves can make all the difference between eking out a living or total failure. While there is no excuse for the enslavement of any human, Ms. Spalding does an excellent job showing how easy it is for someone to become inured to the practice and even become involved in it in some fashion.

While the story revolves around Daniel Dickinson, he is more anti-hero than hero. He is stubborn, too passive in an aggressive environment, convinced of his superior intelligence among his family and neighbors, and incapable of compromise. Daniel’s Quaker beliefs clash with the unwritten rules of life on the frontier, not to mention the abolitionist tenets of the Quaker faith up against the nonchalant acceptance of the institution among Daniel’s new peers. He may accidentally purchase Onesimus and keep him as a slave, but his adamant insistence on maintaining all aspects of his belief system provides huge wells of guilt that keep him weak in a world where the weak just cannot survive. The rest of the characters are equally flawed and oh-so-very human. Their realistic attributes will generate a myriad of emotions within a reader – everything from frustration to disgust to pride to resignation – as they all make good and very poor choices that will continue to haunt them all.

While a reader can guess what some of the inevitable clashes will be from Daniel’s accidental purchase of Onesimus, it is the surprising arcs the story takes that keeps a reader’s interest. The compromise of Daniel’s beliefs so early in the story results in a profound stubbornness that does more harm than good. Combined with his Quaker passivity, the two traits, along with his initial actions upon arrival in the country, do more to cause the resultant scenes than anything else. Onesimus is a mere victim of Daniel’s belief system.

Given its subject matter, The Purchase is not the cheeriest of novels. The first-person account of slavery is as rough and disturbing as one would expect, while the characters and all their faults do little to nothing to ease a reader’s angst. Throughout the story, the overwhelming feelings of distress among all the characters, free and slave, serve to emphasize the arduousness of life on the frontier. Much like its frontier setting, it is stark and brutal and not for the easily distressed.
  jmchshannon | Jul 30, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
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 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.
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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:27:39 -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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