by Charles de Lint



352pp/$24.95/February 1997


Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to find he had become a giant insect. No, Max Trader awoke one morning to find he had become a low-life loser.

For those who have never read the novels or short stories of Charles de Lint, Trader is rather typical of his Newford Stories. These tales are set in the mythical Canadian city of Newford, which combines the best of the Old World and the New World. Despite the fact that magic is rampant in Newford, most people don't seem to realize the fact until they are directly effected by it. For those who have read the stories about Newford, they'll recognize the city and become more deeply acquainted with de Lint's recurring character, Jilly.

On the surface, this novel tells the story of Max Trader's quest to regain his life. De Lint very successfully interweaves several related storylines concerning Devlin's girlfriend and her roommate and Trader's upstairs neighbors.

Obviously, with Max Trader and Johnny Devlin trading bodies, this novel deals with identity crises. However, Trader is not the only one who must exmain who he is. The mother and daughter who live above Trader, Lisa and Nia Fisher are suffering through Nia's adolescence. Furthermore, Lisa is preparing to tell Nia that she is a lesbian. When Nia discovers the information for herself, she takes flight, positive her mother has been switched by aliens.

Devlin's girlfriend, Tanya, must also decide if she is going to continue to allow herself to be defined by her boyfriends and other people. Throughout her life, Tanya has been a tabula rasa on which other people could etch their expectations. Originally, it was her parents, who pushed her into a modeling career followed by a handful of B movies. Then it was her various boyfriends without whom she had no definition.

The central character of Trader may actually be Johnny Devlin. He appears in little of the action directly, however his life is the one which most strongly effects all the characters. Without his desire to leave his life behind, Max Trader would have continued his quiet life as a luthier. Devlin creates the link between all the characters, even between Max and Nia who knew each other long before Devlin even appeared on their scene.

Although Trader is written as well as any of de Lint's books, it is not an enjoyable novel. Too many awful things happen to essentially good people for that. For this reason, I would not recommend this book for someone who has read de Lint.

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