In the dramatic opening of “Caught” a young man named Slaney has just escaped from prison. He seeks to meet up with his friend Hearn again so they can immediately embark on a new scheme of importing marijuana into Canada – the very thing which landed him in jail previously. At the same time Slaney is being followed by a detective named Patterson who hopes to gain a much-needed promotion from bringing this escapee to justice. The stories of these two diametrically opposed characters are told in parallel to each other. Both men are desperate in their own ways and need to find different methods of concealing their identities to achieve their goals. More than a gripping thriller, “Caught” is a thoughtful meditation on the meaning of identity, life choices and time.
Slaney is humbled by the beauty of the world having been incarcerated for four years. In sensuous detail the environment around him is described as rich in smells and colours. The first half of the book recounts a series of colourful episodes Slaney experiences trying to make his way to his friend while evading capture. He encounters idiosyncratic people who are in their own ways trapped by the circumstances of their lives. There is a lonely bride stuck in a sweltering hot hotel room, a gambler who desperately tries to hock his wife’s vacuum cleaner and two exotic dancers who want to share a joint with him. Their stories could easily unfold into larger narratives but we only see snippets of their lives as juxtaposed against Slaney’s newfound freedom. There is a tense understanding that the choices he makes now that he’s sprung himself free will determine his future so that he is simultaneously experiencing “two possible lives formed and unformed…” on a moment by moment basis.
Naturally for Slaney time has taken on a special meaning having spent the precious first few years of his adult life in prison. The repetition of a highly regulated life while being incarcerated flattened out the meaning of passing days for him. The author writes that “In prison he had thought time was an illusion. But now he believed time was a natural force, like the hurricane, except he believed that it could be harnessed.” His perception of time changes from passively letting it flow through him to energetically seizing it for his own use. Having sprung free of his shackled existence Slaney is galvanized to take advantage of opportunity and claim the share of luck that he believes he’s owed.
Moore captures the heart-racing fear of being on the run when in moments of high tension the environment turns vibrantly alive and threatening: “a thin bank of trees, mostly skinny birch, the white trunks like bones, and the leaves so green they seemed lit up and the branches were trembling hard with the breeze.” The landscape becomes imbued with Slaney’s psychology. His heightened sense of awareness when he comes close to being caught twines around the landscape and how he perceives it. This skilful method of writing draws you into the narrative and makes you feel what’s at stake.
I particularly liked a shocking habit that the author creates for a character named Ada who shows a voracious appetite for reading. While sailing on a boat Ada reads book after book. But instead of shelving each title as she finishes them she drops the book over the side of the boat. This powerful image of setting free and destroying the book that’s just been consumed is both a devastatingly horrific idea and a romantic notion of making reading a singular experience.
One of the most difficult issues the novel deals with is the notion of trust. This includes the degree to which we can trust other people and the trust that life will yield fresh opportunities for us. Jaded from his early experiences Slaney finds it difficult to embrace trust in either sense. For him “trust was just another form of laziness.” To put his trust in people feels like having a lack of initiative for him. Likewise Patterson has his own issues with trust as he feels that “Trust was an unwillingness to think things through.” He is a man that has learned that caution and preparedness are actions which can eradicate the need for trust. These strong-willed and cavalier beliefs jostle against the need both men find for showing faith in other people. They gradually learn that their fates cannot be strong-armed into being, but must be guided in sync with the wills of others.
Lisa Moore reveals her own narrative process when she describes how Slaney’s consciousness has been transformed by his experiences: “Time was not linear: it looped, concentric rings within rings.” Throughout the book the past is continuously intruding upon the character’s thoughts while he’s in the present. Memories of Slaney’s great love and his daughter fold into each moment of existence preventing him from making a great leap forward into the future. The endless process of looking back to the man he could have been if his choices had turned out differently is where Slaney is truly caught. Moore’s novel describes how a journey to break out of this cycle is extremely difficult, but necessary.