Growing up in a prominent lumber family in the Miramichi, brothers Will and Owen Jameson know little of the world beyond their town and the great men who work the forest, including their father. But as young men, the boys couldn’t be more different — where seventeen-year-old Will is headstrong and rugged, able to hold his own in the woods or in a fight, Owen, three years his junior, is literary and sensitive. What worries their mother Mary, however, is the prophecy told to her by a local woman upon Will’s birth: “that her first-born would be a powerful man and have much respect — but his brother would be even greater, yet destroy the legacy by rashness, and the Jameson dynasty [would] not go beyond that second boy.” She tries to laugh it off, but the prophecy becomes a part of local legend and hangs over the heads of the boys like a dark cloud.
When their father dies in a freak accident and the management of the Jameson tracts and company falters, Will, as the true inheritor of his father’s “shrewd mind and fists to match,” quits school to take over. He’s a strong leader of men, but perhaps too strong at times, and dies while clearing a log jam during a run. Reggie Glidden, Will’s best friend and the Push of the Jameson team, takes Owen under his wing, searching for any small sign that the younger boy has his brother’s qualities. But Owen knows his limitations and, after his brother’s death and then rejection by the girl of his dreams, Lula Brower, he joins the army and heads off to war hoping to get himself killed. Instead, he returns a decorated war hero.
Then he falls in love with the beautiful, childlike Camellia — the wife of Reggie Glidden — and soon Owen and Camellia find themselves watched on all sides, caught in the teeth of an entire town’s gossip and hypocrisy despite the innocence of their relationship. But for the community, it’s as if taking Owen Jameson — and therefore the whole Jameson family — down a peg or two will give them control over their changing world. Inexorably, Owen and Camellia are pulled into a chain of events that will end with death, disappearance, and a sensational trial.
At the same time, realizing his destiny, Owen takes over the family business and begins what will become the greatest cut in New Brunswick history, his men setting up camp on the notoriously dangerous Good Friday Mountain. The teamsters spend months in fierce ice and snow, daily pitting themselves against nature and risking their lives for scant reward, in the last moments before the coming of mechanization that will make them obsolete. This heroic, brutal life is all Meager Fortune, the camp keeper, knows. A good and innocent man, he shows unexpected resolution in the face of the betrayals of the more worldly men around him.
With The Friends of Meager Fortune, award-winning author David Adams Richards continues his exploration of New Brunswick’s Miramichi Valley, both the hard lives and experiences that emerge from that particular soil and the universal human matters that concern us all: the work of the hands and the heart; the nature of true greatness and true weakness; the relentlessness of fate and the good and evil that men and women do. It is a devastating portrait of a society, but it is also a brilliant commemoration of the passing of a world — one that cements David Adams Richards’ place as the finest novelist at work in Canada today.
About the author
David Adams Richards was born in Newcastle, New Brunswick. His celebrated body of work has earned numerous awards and accolades to date, most notably for his prose, poetry, novels, and screenplays. All examine the fundamental conflict between individual conscience and truth versus community, history, and perceptions.
Adams Richards recent novels include River of the Brokenhearted (2003), a depiction of a family whose fortunes rise and fall with the success of its movie theatres, The Friends of Meager Fortune (2006), an exploration of the dying days of the lumber industry, which won the Commonwealth Prize (Canada and the Caribbean), and The Lost Highway (2007), a suspenseful story of greed, betrayal, and Murder. Lines on the Water, about fishing on the Miramichi, won the Governor General’s Award for non-fiction in 1998, making Richards one of a very select group; he is only the third person to win Governor General literary awards in two different categories. The first novel in his Miramichi trilogy, Nights Below Station Street, received the Governor Generals Award for fiction in 1988. Mercy Among the Children was co-winner of the Giller Prize in 2000. It has also won the Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Award for both novel of the year and author of the year in 2001.
David Adams Richards, né en 1950 à Newcastle, au Nouveau-Brunswick, est un auteur prolifique : il a fait paraître treize romans, un recueil de nouvelles ainsi que trois essais. Son succès critique et commercial ne cesse de s’accroître. Le roman Road to the Stilt House a été mis en nomination pour un Prix littéraire du Gouverneur général en 1985, et en 1988 l’auteur recevait cette même distinction pour Nights Below Station Street, premier volet de sa trilogie du Miramichi. Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace a été primé par la Canadian Authors Association en 1991, et trois ans plus tard, For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down a valu à Richards la récompense littéraire Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Prize.
Les œuvres plus tardives de Richards sont tout aussi bien reçues par la critique. En 1998, son essai Lines on the Water sur la pêche à la ligne dans le Miramichi est honoré du Prix du Gouverneur général, et il se place dès lors au sein d’un groupe enviable : il est seulement le troisième auteur à obtenir la prestigieuse récompense dans deux catégories. En 2000, Mercy Among the Children [La Malédiction Henderson] remporte ex aequo le Giller Prize et, en 2001, la Canadian Booksellers Association récompense Richards du Prix Libris dans les catégories roman de l’année et auteur de l’année. Parmi ses romans les plus récents, on compte River of the Brokenhearted (2003), les hauts et les bas d’une famille au fil des succès et des défaites d’une salle de cinéma; The Friends of Meager Fortune (2006), qui explore de la fin de l’ère de l’industrie forestière, qui a valu à son auteur le Prix du Commonwealth pour la région du Canada et des Caraïbes; et The Lost Highway (2007), une intrigante histoire d’avarice, de trahison et de meurtre.
- Winner, Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (Canada & Caribbean)
- Nominated, Scotiabank Giller Prize
Excerpt: The Friends of Meager Fortune (by (author) David Adams Richards)
I had to walk up the back way, through a wall of dark winter nettles, to see the ferocious old house from this vantage point. A black night and snow falling, the four turrets rising into the fleeing clouds above me. A house already ninety years old and with more history than most in town.
His name was Will Jameson.
His family was in lumber, or was Lumber, and because of his father’s death he left school when just a boy and took over the reins of the industry when he was not yet sixteen. He would wake at dawn, and deal with men, sitting in offices in his rustic suit or out on a cruise walking twenty miles on snowshoes, be in camp for supper and direct men twice as old as he.
By the time he was seventeen he was known as the great Will Jameson of the great Bartibog – an appendage as whimsical as it was grandiose, and some say self-imposed.
As a child I saw the map of the large region he owned – dots for his camps, and Xs for his saws. I saw his picture at the end of the hallway – under the cold moon that played on the chairs and tables covered in white sheets, the shadow of his young, ever youthful face; an idea that he had not quite escaped the games of childhood before he needed gamesmanship.
If we Canadians are called hewers of wood and drawers of water, and balk, young Will Jameson did not mind this assumption, did not mind the crass biblical analogy, or perhaps did not know or care it was one, and leapt toward it in youthful pride, as through a burning ring. The strength of all moneyed families is their ignorance of or indifference to chaff. And it was this indifference to jealousy and spite that created the destiny Jameson believed in (never minding the Jamesian insult toward it), which made him prosperous, at a place near the end of the world.
When he was about to be born his mother went on the bay and stayed with the Micmac man Paul Francis and his wife. She lived there five months while her husband, Byron Jameson, was working as an ordinary axman in the camps, through a winter and spring.
In local legend the wife of Paul Francis was said to have the gift of prophecy when inspired by drink, and when Mary Jameson insisted her fortune be read with a pack of playing cards, she was told that her first-born would be a powerful man and have much respect – but his brother would be even greater, yet destroy the legacy by rashness, and the Jameson dynasty not go beyond that second boy.
Mrs. Francis warned that the prophecy would not be heeded, and therefore happen. It would happen in a senseless way, but of such a route as to look ordinary. Therefore the reading became instead of fun or games a very solemn reading that dark spring night, long ago, as the Francis woman sat in her chair rocking from one side to the other, and looking at the cards through half-closed eyelids.
“Then there is a choice,” Mary Jameson said, still trying to make light of its weight.
“If wrong action is avoided – but be careful to know what wrong action is.”
“In life,” said Mrs. Francis, picking the cards up and placing them away in a motion that attested to her qualifications.
Mary Jameson had the boy christened Will, and had Paul and Joanna Francis as his godparents. During the baptism, the sun which had not shone all day began to do so, through the stained glass. Mary decided she would keep this prophecy to herself. But she told her husband, who as the youngster grew became more affluent, and spoiled solemnity by speaking of the prophecy as a joke.
Soon the prophecy was known by others, and over time translated in a variety of ways.
It was true Mary forgot about it until the second boy, Owen, was born, so sickly he almost died.
She forgot about it again, until her husband was killed in a simple, almost absurd accident on the Gum Creek Road, coming out to inspect his mill on a rain-soaked day in April.
Mary thinking that it was a strange way for her husband to be taken from her. She almost a grandmother’s age with two small boys. Worse, she had asked her husband to come out on that spring day–frightened that he would take to the drive and be injured, and he was killed by a fall on a road.
Mary and her brother Buckler took over the mill until Will came into his own, which was soon enough, and seemingly too soon for his competition.
It is a common misconception that people are as bright as their knowledge. Will Jameson was a boy far brighter than what he knew, which is an ordinary problem in a country like ours, partly in bondage to winter, where snow is a great blessing on the land. His father had started with nothing but a crippled roan horse – and Will now had camps and horses and men, and a sawmill he had to take care of.
He left school because of his father’s death, and said leaving school was the least thing he ever regretted.
“Holding him is like holding a current itself,” Old Estabrook said of the young man.
Yet his mother, Mary, warned him, he had his faults, could be cruel or uncaring, and laughed at his mother’s sentiment and superstition. These traits came gradually. That is, he believed, because it was what society believed, what his father had believed, that a stiff presence at church service was what constituted good behavior, and jokes were meant to be manly and told in private. He thought, even at seventeen, of children as a woman’s responsibility and a man’s ignorance of the offspring showed a healthy character
A GLOBE & MAIL BEST BOOK OF 2006
“The Friends of Meager Fortune is a stark and unforgettable portrait of the war between humility and pride. This novel paints the shadows of a vanished past with magnificently hewn poetry.” — The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, jury comments
“In his depiction of this lost industry, woodsmen standing at the threshold of their occupation’s disappearance, David Adams Richards shows himself to be as powerful a writer as any you can name. . . . The heart of The Friends of Meager Fortune is joyful, a celebratory requiem. . . . The poetry of this magnificently hewn story reveals that pity and woe can be recovered with well-wrought words. The Friends of Meager Fortune is dazzling, melancholy and mesmerizing.” —The Globe and Mail
“You know you are in the hands of a master storyteller when you begin a new novel by award-winning author, David Adams Richards. . . . Richards is an expert at building and maintaining suspense — an early prophecy, numerous betrayals, a murder, a mysterious disappearance, questionable paternity, and a dramatic fire. All contribute to providing a compelling reality. . . . The reader shares the sense of greatness of man and beast and the accompanying sense of loss with their demise.” —The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton)
“The Friends of Meager Fortune is much more than a book noting the intimacies and actualities of the great logging traditions of our shared past. . . . Richards’s storytelling abilities allow him to superimpose upon that past the enormous foibles of human nature. . . . His is a book of a town, of a dynasty; a book of epic proportion. . . . The Friends of Meager Fortune is an excellent portrayal of the shallow pettiness of a society on the brink of change… The Friends of Meager Fortune only cements [Richards’s] name as an author unafraid to paint our history and supposed civility in the glaringcolours of a raw and often unwieldy humanity.” — Edmonton Journal
“A Steinbeck of a book. . . . One of the most remarkable achievements of this book is the delicate juggling of epic and intimate events.” —Calgary Herald
“Given his ear for a catchy phrase, Richards might easily have become a balladeer instead of a novelist…. There’s nothing meager about the (sic) Richards gift for storytelling. This sturdily crafted novel, on the long list for the Giller Prize, brings an obscure page of Canadian history to breathtaking, vivid life.” — The Gazette (Montreal)
“The Friends of Meager Fortune is both a profoundly moving account of the honourable few and a damning indictment of the famished many who ‘fill up their souls with the trinkets of life, instead of with life itself.’” — Guelph Mercury
“Life on the mountain is gritty and believable. The beer caps pounded into the cabin door, the precious photos pinned above bunks, horses with names like Miss Maggie Wade, teamsters mounted on loads of giant logs, racing down to (sic) the icy path to the river — all are unforgettable.” —Winnipeg Free Press
“After reading David Adams Richards' The Friends of Meager Fortune, I thank goodness I was born today…. As in many other Richards novels the lives of everyday people are elevated to a place of meaning, seen from the eye of an educated narrator who artfully creates a story of compelling inevitability.” — Toronto Star
“The world of The Friends of Meager Fortune is one of themes writ large, of good and evil, of honour and betrayal, of compassion and cruelty. It is classic storytelling, something too often missing from contemporary writing, a lack which we only fully recognize when startled by a novel of such range and daring as this.” — Ottawa Citizen
“For 30 years, Richards has been writing deeply moving stories set in northern New Brunswick with the kind of moral intensity that Thomas Hardy brought to Dorset. …That long, emotional investment gives his story the luster of legend, complete with prophesies of doom, a chorus of fickle townspeople ready to praise or pounce, and feats of physical labor so brutal you can't help but feel bruised just to read about them. … You'd have to go back to Steinbeck's farmers, Hurston's turpentine workers or Melville's whalers to find the kind of reverence Richards conveys for hard physical labor. … It's the kind of fearsome silence only the most powerful novels can leave.” —The Washington Post