Soul Catcher is the story of Augustus Cain, a man who is lost to himself and his society. He spends his time drinking and gambling. When he finds himself with debts he is unable to pay, he is forced to revert to his one distinct talent – catching runaway slaves. Cain doesn’t necessarily enjoy his work, but he is good at it. He rationalizes what he does by viewing slaves as property instead of as human beings, but each time he is required to take on his role as soul catcher, Cain declares it will be the last. Inevitably, his demons get the best of him and he finds himself falling back on his talent. When Cain finds himself in a situation where he would lose his beloved horse if he didn’t agree to work for a wealthy Virginia planter under the supervision of Mr. Eberly’s trusted men and Preacher, a sadistic man who will stop at no form of torture to get what he is paid to get, Cain is fully determined to never step back into this role again.
Although this novel begins with Cain being caught and confronted by Mr. Eberly by surprise while in a drunken and laudanum induced stupor, this novel started out slow for me. The writing was excellent and I could clearly see and almost smell the setting. What made is slow was Cain’s tone. He is a depressed man and the only thing that generally seemed to engage him was the thought of losing his beloved horse. Depressed people are not exciting and engaging people and in that way it made sense for it to seem slow. I was thankful when it picked up when they quickly found Henry, the male slave who ran away with Rosetta, the slave Mr. Eberly really wanted back – and wanted back unharmed.
Cain can quite interestingly be compared and contrasted with the slaves he is charged to capture. He grew up on a small plantation as the oldest son. His father had made plans for him to marry a local Southern Belle and thus expand both families within the county. Cain did not want to live the same life as his father. He had no interest in farming and raising a family. On the eve of his marriage, he ran away and joined the army, but that was simply a change in atmosphere. He wasn’t living his father’s life, but he was no closer to discovering, let alone going after, the life he wanted. After barely surviving the war in Mexico, Cain fell into soul catching because it was convenient and he was good at it. His life simply drifted because he never allowed himself to dream. The slaves he captured were unhappy with their state in life. They knew that they wanted to be free, though. They ran away like Cain did. When they were unsuccessful, however, they often tried again. Because they did not have the luxury of drowning themselves in their own sorrows, they were free in ways that Cain could not comprehend – until he met and observed Rosetta. In this way, Soul Catcher is a novel about catching and then setting freeing your own soul.
Oftentimes, a novel is either plot driven or character driven. Soul Catcher was an interesting mixture of both aspects of storytelling. The story of Cain’s tracking, capturing, and bringing home Mr. Eberly’s property consistently unfold. However, the story of Cain’s inner life and how he is impacted by his time with Rosetta ebbs and flows within it very well. Although I wasn’t certain that someone as young as Rosetta would be so wise as she was depicted, this didn’t distract me during my reading. It was something that I thought about after the fact while discussing it with others. If you don’t mind the harsh reality of life as a runaway slave, I would recommend this novel to you. It is well written and provides a view into Southern life leading up to the Civil War.
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