Gilbert Parker’s The Right of Way is the story of man devoid of human emotion and human intimacy.
The novel opens with a man being acquitted of murder in Montreal thanks to the brilliant summation Charley “Beauty” Steele delivers while “quietly, unnoticeably drunk.”
That night Charley proposes to Kathleen Wantage.
After five years of marriage, Kathleen tells Charley she despises him for ruining her brother, the local minister, and her life. Charley goes off to a dive where the locals beat him up. One man would have fought for Charley, but Charley spurns him with the question, “Have I ever been introduced to you?”
To that point, the novel is absolutely electrifying. But when Charley is fished out of the river by the acquitted murderer to begin a new life in the Canadian forest, the story becomes increasingly implausible with every page.
Parker doesn’t help by trying to shift attention from Charley’s personality to Charley’s lack of religious faith. By comparison to the electrifying picture of Charley the drunkard Montreal lawyer, Charley the agnostic tailor is a bore.
Parker gets his power back in the deathbed scene:
“I beg—your—pardon,” [Charley] whispered to the imagined figure, and the light died out of his eyes, “have I—ever—been—introduced—to you?”
Unfortunately, by that time eventually clichés and coincidences have sucked the oxygen from the plot. If Parker had only written a shorter novel, as his foreword says he originally intended, he might have produced a great piece of literature.
The Right of Way
by Gilbert Parker
1901 bestseller # 4
Project Gutenberg e-book #6249