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Last Updated on July 16, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 423

Guy Vanderhaeghe's novel The Last Crossing begins when artist Charles Gaunt receives a letter that brings back the world of the past. He is forced to confront the memory of the journey that he, his brother Addington, and a group of others took across the wilds of Montana back in...

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Guy Vanderhaeghe's novel The Last Crossing begins when artist Charles Gaunt receives a letter that brings back the world of the past. He is forced to confront the memory of the journey that he, his brother Addington, and a group of others took across the wilds of Montana back in the 1870s in an attempt to find their lost brother, Simon. They were joined in this quest by a guide named Jerry Potts and a laundress named Lucy Stoveall (who is herself searching for her sister's murderer), as well as some others.

The novel is written in a conspicuously lyrical style. For example, a snowstorm is described as follows:

Out of the blank inkwell of the night sky, incongruously, a white flood poured.

The narrator adds that

It might be high summer all about but inside me everything is fall. The lonesomeness of a sad, slow closing of days, knowing frost is nigh and wind needling through the cabin chinks is just around the bend. That's me, right now.

Notably, Vanderhaeghe invests a lot of work in differentiating the voices of characters, but he tends to favor the classic contrast of inward struggle and even chaos versus order (in the sense of outer attempts to achieve order, follow orders, or pursue justice).

Throughout, the characters refer to social conventions as limiting constraints on their actions. For example, Simon tells his twin brother, Charles,

Do not follow your present course. It is a dead end. The dead end of the perfect English gentleman.

He proceeds to say that both he and Simon are "frozen in a pose." The novel uses the Romantic convention of a journey through the wilderness in an attempt to see what lies beyond the artificial poses of social convention. Yet, ironically, the novel's occasionally florid prose and highly conventional plot (a band of misfits making their way through the world to pursue justice and other passions while navigating differences) is itself dependent upon literary conventions. The novel plays with these conventions skillfully while never quite transcending them.

The novel's many strengths lie in its carefully researched historical setting, its use of varied voices, and its commitment to a fast-moving, energetically paced plot. The use of visual detail is also strong, and the images are powerful. One thinks, for example, of the following description of a boat's propeller:

The propeller frothed the water, beat it white, the ship's wake a metalled rod pointing back to England.

The analogy between a mixer and a boat propeller is witty and the image effective.

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