So what would you do if you woke up in a strange room, in a strange apartment, and in a strange body? How do you convince people that you are you, not the guy whose face you’re wearing? And what do you do when you realize that almost no one knows you well enough to be convinced? That’s what happens to Max Trader. He is a boutique instrument-maker who has no family and whose only friend is a 13-year-old neighbor (who believes him, but freaks out because she thinks her mother has been ‘taken’ as well). And of course, the guy who switched bodies with him is not a nice guy – duh! What do you do when the world yanks the rug out from under you, when suddenly anything – good and bad – is possible? These are the questions posed by Trader, written by Charles de Lint.
In the realm of favorite authors, there are still degrees of favorite-ness to be delineated. On the short list of authors for whom I have a hard time finding the words to convey how much I appreciate their existence and contribution to my world, Charles de Lint is in the top 5. This is not a formal list, you understand. I don’t feel the need to assign a rank to each and place them above or below each other. Each is unique and cherished for different reasons, and I find all that grading and assigning of privilege annoying and counter-productive. (Others on the list include Barbara Kingsolver, Tom Robbins, Louise Erdrich, Terry Pratchett and Virginia Woolf.) So when I tell you that Charles de Lint is a favorite of mine, what I mean is that if you were to ask me the name of one author that you should read and enjoy in your lifetime, Charles de Lint is likely who I would mention. He is probably the least-known of my ultimate favorites.
It all started (for Bev) long, long ago in a galaxy known as Title Wave. My friend, Deb Day, and I both read a lot and often trade books. She was looking for something to read in the sci-fi section of Title Wave, and saw a book called Someplace to be Flying, sky blue with a black feather on the spine. That was all she could see, but it drew her attention enough for her to pick it up – and the rest is history. That book knocked us both out and I have since bought a dozen or more copies as gifts for other people. Her and I have since devoured everything he’s written, collecting them and re-reading our favorites. Thankfully, Title Wave gave us a steady supply of new and old de Lint, they must have known we were in need. And the municipal libraries in Anchorage also had copies of many of his stories – often filed under Youth Fiction. And while I won’t say that every book he’s written is a 10, de Lint’s got more hits on his roster than most, and several books on my default, read-again-when-you-have-nothing-new-or-because-you-need-a-reason-to-live list. Trader is not one of my uber-faves, but I only recently purchased it, so it was time to read it again.
Many of de Lint’s novels and short stories (and all of my favorites) fall into the category of Urban Fantasy. The setting is current era (right now, could be your street or town) but the story is anything but ordinary. The reinventing of Native spirits, fairies, hobgoblins and other creation myths and fairy tales often comprise a significant part of the plot and setting. In Trader, for example, two men’s minds are exchanged between their bodies. There is a lot going on—trips to the spiritworld, jilted girlfriends, Coyote relatives, artist/waitresses, mother-daughter relations, soul eaters and more – but the theme is about living your life and owning your decisions. And important questions like: What makes you who you are – how you look or the actions you take? Is it random luck or karma that determines your fate? One of the things I adore about de Lint is that there is always a higher purpose – he doesn’t just write fun fantasy books, he wants you to think about your own life. He wants to interrogate the world we live in and believes that we can change it for the better with everything we do. Anyone who has read de Lint will probably recognize several of the minor characters in Trader (such as Jilly and Joe Crazy Dog). I personally love it when an author uses the same city and setting to tell separate stories that add up to a whole world of people and events.
If you want to read de Lint at his best, pick up StbF, Forests of the Heart, Spirits in the Wires or Memory & Dream. Now I have to go read StbF… it’s been at least a year. Charles de Lint needs to live to be a hundred and write me 50 more books. I don’t ask for much…