Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Great Quest, by Charles Boardman Hawes

Joe is a young man of indefinite age (I'm going to say about 17, although I don't think the book ever explicitly states). Both of his parents have passed away, leaving him in the care of his Uncle Seth Upham. Mr. Upham keeps his store in Topham, Massachusetts, and is very well-regarded in the community.

One day, an old resident of the town, Neal Gleazen, returns after having left decades prior under very unfavorable circumstances. He was known formerly as a man of bad reputation who had kept bad company, but he seems to be making a sincere effort to change the townspeople's perceptions of him. Over time he eventually wins them over, and simultaneously begins to exert an odd control over Mr. Upham, eventually convincing him to sell all of his assets (including store, property, and land) an invest in a ship with Mr. Gleazen. Mr. Gleazen claims to be aware of a fabulous business opportunity on the African coast which will make all involved very rich. However, the day of their departure is hastened as Mr. Gleazen becomes drunk, reverts to the behavior for which he was previously known, and stabs a barkeep. He, Upham, Joe, and associates must all flee the city in disgrace.

Over time, the crew of the ship are replaced by new men Gleazen brings on board and knows well from prior dealings. There are also rumors and whispers, as well as supporting evidence, that Gleazen's investment opportunity is not gold or investments or crops, but the slave trade.

Sounds like a fascinating set-up for an adventuresome book, doesn't it? The following paragraphs take many, many dreary pages to play out in the book itself.

Alas, the book begins to decline in quality at this point (perhaps the author hadn't really thought through the remainder of the book). In any case, the ship goes ashore but the natives were expecting them. The resident missionary attempts to intervene and is killed by the natives. Attempting to find the residence of Gleazen's on-shore associate, they find him dead in his chair and are completely surrounded. The resulting stand-off results in the death of Mr. Upham (who had gone mad by this point and had wandered into the line of fire). The remainder of the group manages to escape (with the missionary's newly-orphaned daughter and black servant).

Finally, Joe and those loyal to Mr. Upham manage to take control of the ship and force it from its mission of slavery. They are eventually shipwrecked on the coast of South America. Joe proposes to the missionary's daughter (which makes so little sense in the context of the book and Joe's own descriptions of and thoughts about her!) and he acquires just enough money to get them both back to Topham.

Upon their arrival, they learn that Mr. Upham had left a small sum which was willed to Joe. Upon retrieving it from the bank, the new couple has just enough money to purchase back Mr. Upham's old store and build a home. The end.

Excellent first half, horrible second half. Such a pity.

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