by Charles de Lint
Trader is a debate-ably new take on a classic plot device - switching bodies. Most readers of Trader do agree that de Lint does do a much better job than others have. As with The Onion Girl (published Oct 2001), de Lint introduces few new characters and instead works with characters that have appeared in his previous works in the city of Newford. Newford is a Canadian city filled with artsy types and folk singers, most of whom are thirty-somethings.
Haven't you ever wished you could be someone else? Max Trader did. His life wasn't so bad, just a bit on the bland side... late 30s, living alone as a luthier with his own store - nothing special: solitary, quiet, and responsible. Then, one day he wakes up in another body - that of Johnny Delvin who wished he could be someone else too. Both people, having such a loose grip on their own life allowed a mischievous spirit to swap them.
So now, Max Trader lives in the body of Johnny Delvin - fairly much a
looser, unable to hold down a job, borrowing money from acquaintances and treating others like dirt (causing mild mannered Max a significant amount of effort to overcome). On the day the bodies were switched, Johnny Delvin was evicted from his home and now Max (in Johnny's body) finds himself broke and homeless - uncertain of his future, and struggling to regain a sense of himself.
The story itself is reasonably well done though it has been criticized as
not breaking any new ground - much of the philosophy and ideas about
art that echo through de Lint's books that it seeks to get across were done in Memory and Dream, and much better (IMHO). Expressing commentary on racism, poverty, and homelessness and a hint into
the life of a homeless person. It is interesting that other than the character of Nia (friend of Max, run-away who's mother is trying to come out of the closet), the younger people (more along the lines of extras - other than Nia, no one under 20 gets more than a passing mention) in the book were cast in a negative light. Furthermore, drawing upon previous books and the histories of the characters there (and thus never well introduced in Trader) it is harder to get a feel for the characters - not a book for a first time reader of de Lint to start from.
Yet, Trader is a good book and enrapturing story that does evoke the emotions of the reader. The switching perspectives from character to character within the story - giving us glimpses into the minds of all the characters and not just one or two. As an almost thirty something guy, I find myself finding Max's story more interesting than the others, and hope to see Max again in another book. I keep wondering, like Joseph Crazydog, how Max's story will continue after the last page.
Published in 1997, Tor