Matthew is missing. Robert’s seven-year-old brother has vanished on a walk into town. Robert’s mother had asked him to accompany Matthew to Horshoe to buy some some gum, but Robert was miles away engrossed in a Martian adventure story, and certainly not home on his farm in Depression-era Saskatchewan. And when his younger brother disappears,Robert figures it is his fault and he has to find him.
He soon notices there is something sinister happening. The hens are laying eggs with blood in them; a broken jar found out on the prairie has a plaintive echo of a young girl’s voice; and most disturbingly, his parents are lost in a weird sort of daydream and have forgotten about their missing son.
It is up to Robert to discover where his brother has disappeared – along with the other boys and girls of Horshoe. He is led to an ivory-skinned stranger who suddenly appears and bewitches both parents and children with magical mirrors and a fantastic rainmaking machine.
Book Club discussion highlights:
We had a lively book club discussion this month about Dust. We found ourselves often veering off track and going on and on about stories from our youth, or different ways in how we felt connected to the prairie landscape of this story. Although, the story takes place during the Depression Era 30’s, the description of the Cyprus Hills and life on a farm and small town living hit us at the core. We could all connect or relate in some way to this life, having grown up in small town/farm communities ourselves. (Most of us anyway.)
If per chance, you’re a teacher looking for a story about prairie life in Canada to discuss with your grade 5 – 7 students, this would be a perfect pick.
I first read Dust about eight or ten years ago after I’d met Arthur Slade at a writers’ conference in Toronto. From that long ago, I still remembered my favourite line of writing from chapter one and it’s highly unusual for me to remember a detail like that. To set the context, seven-year-old Matthew is walking down a gravel road towards town, the sun beating down on him and Slade gives a description of a farmer’s tan, with this beautiful line, “The prairie had marked him as one of it’s own.” I just love that line. Chapter one of the novel is beautifully written and gives the greatest sense of young Matthew and the Cyprus Hills where he lives. The poetic like writing continues through the novel and has fabulous similes and metaphors strewn throughout.
We all agreed that the best character in the story was Abram Harsich, the villain. His ghostly description and mysterious ways where captivating.
We did find however that some of the other characters were somewhat flat. We had two complaints about the novel. One was lack of great characterization. We thought the novel could have been a phenomenal read if the characters had been a bit more filled out. The other was a bit of a lull in the story that seemed very slow moving near the beginning and we all mentioned this lull and getting back into the story at the same point where we then sailed through to the end.
It’s a haunting tale of disappearing children and a ghostly stranger moving into small town Saskatchewan. It’s about finding strength in the face adversity.
We do recommend Dust.
This is an unsolicited review. I purchased my copy ages ago from a local bookstore.
- Mass Market Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: HarperTrophy (March 3 2003)
- ISBN-13: 978-000648594