The Friends of Meager Fortune

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.


From the Hardcover edition.

Reviews

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


From the Hardcover edition.