Trader 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
ISBN 0-312-85847-7

When Max Trader wakes up in the body of Johnny Devlin, a man he has never met, he can not believe that his comfortable life has been usurped by a loser who is just about to get evicted for non-payment of rent. But Max lives in Newford where the threshold of the world of spirits that most people only visit in their dreams is easily breached, and the street people are closer to the liminal zone than most, so when he finds himself living in a park with a stray dog, his new friends and the real Johnny's not so friendly acquaintances help him come to terms with what has happened and decide what to do about it.

Max Trader is a master craftsman, a successful and well-respected luthier, it is not the creative side of his life that left him vulnerable to the body swap, but his social isolation and lack of connection with other people. The charming but feckless Johnny Devlin just went to bed wishing that his problems would all go away, and once he had Max's comfortable apartment and his bank accounts, he didn't want to let them go.

I thought that this book was a bit too long and could have done with having a few less characters; if the author had thought up a different way for Nia to meet up with the real Max, he could have dispensed with Nia's mother Lisa and her relationship with Julie altogether. I found them the least convincing characters, and leaving out their story would probably have knocked 50 or so pages off the length.

Trad"er (?), n.

1.

One engaged in trade or commerce; one who makes a business of buying and selling or of barter; a merchant; a trafficker; as, a trader to the East Indies; a country trader.

2.

A vessel engaged in the coasting or foreign trade.

 

© Webster 1913.

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