The misadventures of an escaped convict in 1970s Canada might seem like an odd choice of topic for Lisa Moore, whose previous novel, FEBRUARY, was longlisted for the Booker Prize. But although CAUGHT is certainly an adventure novel, filled with near-misses, assumed identities, and a run from the law, it's also a poetic meditation on mistakes, lost chances, and a last grasp at redemption (no matter what that might look like).
CAUGHT opens in a rush, as David Slaney escapes from a Nova Scotia prison in June 1978 on the eve of his 25th birthday. He's been in jail ever since a pot-smuggling scheme hatched by him and his old friend Hearn went horribly wrong. He has spent the last few years rehashing where mistakes were made, convinced that if he could just get another chance, he could do it right next time: "They had a modicum of luck. Whatever unit of measurement they employ to quantify luck. They had more of it than before. An iota more luck, and it might be enough to get them through. They had experience. What he'd learned could fill a book."
"CAUGHT has many of the trappings of an adventure novel and all the vibe of the 1970s, but it also boasts a protagonist who's a bit more philosophical than your average ex-con and language as lyrical and thoughtful as any literary fiction."
At first, Slaney's luck does seem to be holding out. The getaway truck that had been arranged for him shows up at the appointed time and place, the people whom he encounters seem willing to help him, even though his face is in all the papers. As he makes his way across Canada, he dreams of reuniting with Hearn and, just as importantly, his old girlfriend, Jennifer, the love of his life. "He had wanted her all the while he was in jail but being on the fire escape with the sun and the horse…. Slaney wanted her more. The meadows stretching as far as the eye could see cranked his senses open. All of who he was dilated. It hurt. He'd been so afraid that prison had stolen this for good, but it was coming back."
But soon Slaney discovers that Hearn may have moved on and that Jennifer certainly has. He's being pursued by Patterson, a cop for whom arresting Slaney would be the highlight of his career. Perhaps his prison dreams of returning to Colombia and redeeming himself with the job of a lifetime are not meant to be. But that doesn't mean they're not worth trying for.
CAUGHT has many of the trappings of an adventure novel and all the vibe of the 1970s, but it also boasts a protagonist who's a bit more philosophical than your average ex-con and language as lyrical and thoughtful as any literary fiction. "The most serious mistakes are the easiest to make," reflects Slaney. "There are mistakes that stand in the centre of an empty field and cry out for love." Enriched by dozens of minor characters with whom Slaney interacts on his travels, not to mention Slaney's own unforgettable voice and viewpoint, CAUGHT can be read as an extended consideration of whether some mistakes are just too big to recover from, no matter how grand our intentions or grandiose our dreams.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on February 21, 2014