Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Reader's Diary #1041- Rudy Wiebe: The Mad Trapper

It was 5 years ago that I read Rudy Wiebe's Governor General's Award winning The Temptations of Big Bear. The Mad Trapper may as well have been written by a completely. At first I thought maybe I'd just forgotten but when I look back over my blog posts from that time (all the archiving is finally paying off), it turns out that Wiebe's writing in Big Bear was much more experimental featuring a plethora of narrative styles, not the least of which was stream of consciousness. I've always admired when writers take risks, even if I'm not a fan of stream of consciousness. The Mad Trapper on the one hand doesn't use stream of consciousness, but on the other hand, doesn't take any other risks either so I'm not sure how I feel about it. If it wasn't for the topic— I'm fascinated with the Mad Trapper— I think I'd have found it dull. The publishers list the book as "teen fiction" but I'm not sure what exactly makes it a teen novel. Just because it's a more straightforward read than The Temptations of Big Bear?

The Mad Trapper begins promisingly enough. Here we see a mysterious man entering quietly into the northern community of Fort McPherson, an image wonderfully juxtaposed with a noisy dance/ pie eating contest involving the locals and the RCMP. Wiebe does a fantastic job establishing his characters here: the enigmatic stranger who will later be known erroneously as Albert Johnson, the jovial RCMP corporal Edgar "Spike" Millen, the much more rigid constable Albert King, and a slew of secondary characters.

Before long, however, the book turns into a much more plot driven book as Johnson's odd behaviour escalates to the point of attempted murder and a manhunt pursues. In itself the adventure is exciting and engaging. However, I felt that all the work in developing the characters in the beginning was wasted. While Millen's personality arguably does change throughout the course of the book, King is killed off early (which Wiebe can hardly be blamed for seeing as it is historical fiction), but the real disappointment was in the lack of development of Johnson. While it is true that to this day no one knows much about the man, including his real identity, and Wiebe leaves him every bit as mysterious as he's ever been, but he's still dropped rather unceremoniously after the first part of the book. At the beginning readers were invited into the Mad Trapper's world. They aren't given a lot of clues (though Wiebe does tease with some) and even fewer thoughts but at least readers get to follow him on his journey. Once the chase begins however, readers are left almost exclusively with those tracking him. Johnson is not followed closely again until almost the very end.

Overall, I did enjoy The Mad Trapper but found it somewhat unbalanced. I'd also like to read another nonfiction account of the Mad Trapper as I'd like to be able to keep the facts and Wiebe's embellishments separate.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

It sounds as though this would be a somewhat disappointing read. Perhaps I will give this a pass.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: If you're interested in the Mad Trapper though, I'd still say it's worth a read.

For those unfamiliar with the story of the Mad Trapper, I'd suggest Googling him. It is a quite fascinating mystery.