Book review: Principles to Live By

Principles to Live By

David Adams Richards, 2016

Available at the Ottawa Public Library

Review in National Post, May 18, 2016

The man who lives without principles is a pitiable beast. The question is: what principles should we live by? Novelist David Adams Richards offers a simple solution, the quality known as “common decency.”

It may be simple but, like its sister notion, “common sense,” it may also be comparatively rare. Indeed part of the narrative thrust of Richards’s new novel, Principles To Live By, is its demonstration that living by the dictates of common decency – ordinary, garden variety, common decency – can result in high spiritual adventure.

The beginning of the novel certainly promises a sequence of events of no ordinary kind. It is March 1999, and the proprietor of a foster home in St. John, New Brunswick is chasing a scrawny 13-year-old boy, an inmate of his house. He almost succeeds in grabbing the boy by his coat but he wriggles free and the chase resumes until the boy, unfamiliar with the terrain and enveloped in darkness, accidentally runs off the edge of a ninety-two-foot cliff.

His pursuer, one Bunny McCrease, is panic-stricken and enlists the aid of his son-in-law to dispose of the boy’s coat, and pretends that the fall never happened. Furthermore, careless record-keeping has already more or less obliterated the boy’s brief stay at the foster home – no one looks for him, nobody claims him. Even his name is uncertain. His very existence has been erased.

It is a truly frightening thesis for a crime novel – not a quest to find out who killed somebody, but a quest on the part of people acting out of “common decency” to save the identity of an otherwise forgotten human being. …

Read the rest of the review here.

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