Lisa Moore, whose novel February won this year’s Canada Reads competition, has the ability to perfectly capture an emotional moment. At the outset of her third novel, Caught, David Slaney has escaped the prison that has been his home for four years, and is overwhelmed by the minutiae of his first hours of life on the outside. This sensory overload, described in necessary detail, comes together in two evocative sentences: “All of who he was dilated. It hurt.”
Slaney and his friend, Hearn, were busted trying to bring more than $1 million worth of marijuana into Canada. Hearn jumped bail, and now Slaney is on a cross-country journey to meet up with him and try again. As part of the do-over, he’s determined to reconnect with the girlfriend he had at the time of his bust. Caught is set in the late 1970s, which serves to cast a nostalgic glow on the whole episode.
Moore creates compelling micro-fictional character studies within the larger narrative. While hitchhiking, Slaney is picked up by a woman who lives with her grandfather; Slaney and the woman have a one-night stand. In a small hotel, he evades a police raid by hiding in the room of a bride whose dress won’t zip up. When he is saddled with an unexpected passenger on his drug run, Slaney is at first angry and mistrustful, but all it takes is one conversation to change his mind. Slaney is a deeply empathetic character, and Moore deftly draws the reader into his story.
Caught is a pleasure to read. The narrative is cohesive and propulsive, but it’s Moore’s mastery of language and image that sets her apart. Her cops-and-smugglers story is made beautiful through a protagonist who remains surprisingly optimistic throughout, and refuses to take small things for granted.