It’s a familiar premise: two people wake up one morning and they’ve switched bodies. Freaky Friday was probably the first, and most recently, the Ryan Reynolds/Jason Bateman move The Change Up tackled it. I don’t think anyone saw that one. It was even tackled on The Daily Show this past February when Jon Stewart switched bodies with Justin Bieber.
This scenario always seems to be played up for comedy, but Trader by Charles de Lint, is the first time I’ve seen it done where the impact on the switched is really experienced for the traumatic experience that it is. Max Trader is a successful luthier (he makes musical instruments) who wakes up unexpectedly in the body of a stranger, Johnny Devlin, a deadbeat moments away from being evicted. Devlin is thrilled at the opportunity to take over Max’s life. Homeless and angry, Max tries to take back his life from someone unwilling to give it up.
I’ve read a few other novels by Charles de Lint, and he’s a bit of a master of the urban fantasy genre, mixing elements of real world city life with the magical, incorporating Native American shamanism, urban legends and fairy tales into a gritty cityscape of Newford, a microcosm of everywhere, but probably most closely resembling somewhere like Seattle.
As Max Trader navigates this city, he receives assistance from Joe Crazy Dog, and other characters familiar in de Lint’s novels, and he eventually finds himself in the spirit world where his quest continues. It’s at this point where the book loses me a little bit, as some characters find themselves in the spirit world version of Los Angeles. It was a small scene, but that setting didn’t seem to fit with the tone of the rest of the book.
If you enjoy the switched bodies type of story, or even if you’re extremely tired of it (as I was before reading Trader), this book should make the idea fresh again instead of a cliche. De Lint’s characters and dialogue are great, and Newford feels as real a city as any I know. If you haven’t read it, give it a try. You don’t need to have read any other de Lint books to know what’s going on.