Dead Man's Ticket.
Grade 12 and up / Ages 17 and up.
By the next day, claustrophobia began to set in. Junk tends to insulate you from reality, however sordid or dangerous that reality might be. Without junk's illusory protection, all the unpleasant truths come barging in without knocking. My misguided attempt to play detective had landed me in an impossible situation. I was half in love with a woman who loved junk more than she had loved any man - Angelo, Frankie, or me. There was still only one practical way out of the mess that I could see, and it was time to take it.
Trower is author of eight published books of poetry and Grogan's Cafe, a novel about West Coast logging life. His articles and poetry have been published in a number of periodicals, and his 22 years of experience as a logger have culminated in Dead Man's Ticket. In 1952, Terry Belshaw, an on-again off-again logger who drinks away his hard-earned money around the Vancouver waterfront, finds himself embroiled in a mystery surrounding the death of his best friend, Frankie. Terry's determination to solve Frankie's death leads him to hire out in his dead friend's place - on a dead man's ticket! However, before he does so, he has to take one last swing through Skid Road where he goes head-to-head with wrecked winos, junkie loggers, sexy women, cut-rate hookers, cool cats, zoot-suited rounders, and even his own doppelganger.
Once readers get past the very technical logging industry jargon found in twenty-five percent of the novel, they are in for a compelling tale of adventure and misadventure. Trower's descriptive talents are evident throughout. His poetry introduces each of the book's twenty chapters.
"Schooldays Schooldays tight-cuffed pants and pool days smoking and drinking and messing with junk making the scene with hoods and punks... "(Chapter 13, p. 149)
His images draw readers into the harsh reality of the world he has created. "Carlotta's fantasy of running away to some clean, green place was exactly that - a vain pipe dream that would blow away like spiderwebs in the harsh wind of reality." (p.206) Trower's logging scenes, however, are beyond the comprehension level of any normal reading audience. One such troublesome passage is: "The next morning, Ron jumped off at the trackside tree with the Mouse and the rest of the crew. The crummy jolted on with our chaser, Billy McKinnon, at the wheel. Technically, until the new hooktender arrived, I was now top-hand on the cold-deck show."(p.85)
A glossary of logging terminology would have made this book a stronger piece of writing by drawing readers into this other created world that Trower has constructed. Another help would have been the inclusion of occasional illustrations. Without such aids, five chapters are unnecessary and should be deleted.
Dead Man's Ticket is very graphic both in its content and language and will find a willing and accepting audience among adults, especially those who have considerable knowledge of the logging world or who are willing to do the research themselves.
Recommended with reservations.
Floyd Spracklin, an English Language Arts Department Head and teacher at G.C. Rowe Junior High School in Corner Brook, NF, has been teaching, writing, acting, and reviewing literature and theatrical productions for twenty-five years.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE - MAY 23, 1997.
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