About the book
- Winner of the NorthWords Prize
Body Trade weaves together two stories of survival. The main narrative follows Rosie and Tanya, two young Canadian women who decide to leave the Northwest Territories and head south on an ill-conceived road trip through California, Mexico and Central America. The story takes a life-defining twist when their search for freedom and adventure beings them into contact with predators of the Central American sex trafficking trade. The girls' journey into unknown and dangerous territory is punctuated with scenes from a place crash in the far North, underlining the novel's themes of survival, betrayal, epiphany and hope. In a deeply personal narrative that explores power, sexual manipulation, cultural consumption and trust, Body Trade asks the ultimate question: To what terrifying places will we journey, and at what cost, in order to save our own lives?
About the author
Margaret Macpherson is a writer and teacher, originally from Canada's Northwest Territories. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing from UBC and has worked as an essayist and journalist in Halifax, Bermuda and Vancouver. She is a published poet and the author of four non-fiction books including the award winning Nellie McClung: Voice for the Voiceless. Her short story collection Perilous Departures was nominated for a Manitoba Book Award, as was her first novel, Released. Body Trade is Margaret Macpherson's seventh book.
Tanya sees Amos first, standing on shore with his legs spread wide. He’s waiting for them. She can see little puffs of dust coming off his dungarees as he taps his riding crop again and again.
“Oh boy,” says Rosie, drawing back at the stern, trying to prevent the canoe from landing. “Tanya?”
With nowhere else to go, she digs in, countering her stroke and pulling them up to the beach. Amos’s anger is a deep mahogany, his eyes the squished pulp of papaya.
Thwack. The riding crop comes down just above Tanya’s hand as she steadies herself on the bow, preparing to leap to the sand. Thwack. He hits the boat again, enraged. “Who do you think you are?” he screams. Thwack.
She scrambles past, collapsing her belly and chest into her shoulders and back in case he decides to strike, but no, he’s all drama. Rosie sits in the boat, now half in the water. She’s afraid to come in, but at least she’s out of reach of this lunatic.
“You think you can do that to me? To me? Do you know who they are? Do you know what they can do to us here?” Thwack. Thwack. Again and again his wrist brings down the whip on the boat.
Rosie scrambles to shore, but she’s jumped out of the boat too soon and trips in the soft shore gunk. She scrambles to her feet, but finally lurches past his raised arm, trailing the stink of the soupy sea and her own fear. The girls stand close together, a human wall against his fury. For Tanya it is a definitive moment. Everything goes soft around the edges and there is only his voice, screaming and swearing. He holds the trembling crop close to her face, the whites of his eyes huge and bulging. “You. I know this is you, Tanya. I’ll break you. You hear, puta de mierda? I’ll break you.” His spittle, like the foam of a rabid dog, lands on her cheeks and neck but she doesn’t brush it away. Tanya stands up to him, staring, toe-to-toe, eyeball-to-eyeball. She will not back down.
Amos whips the crop again and she feels it whistle near her ear as her hair lifts and settles. He’s close. If he touches either of them, she’ll attack. Calm, girl, calm. Seconds pass. She opens her eyes, not realizing they were closed, yet still stands her ground.
“You’ll pay for this, ” he hisses. “No woman makes a fool of me. You hear? No woman.” And with that he turns and marches towards the house. Tanya doesn’t move. She watches water pool in the small heel indentations Amos has left in the black sand. He’s gone.
Rosie whistles. “Wow. He’s mad.”
Tanya looks over.
“Yeah,” she says flatly. “Mad, like a friggin’ madman. We better avoid that mother for a while, eh? Best we steer clear of Mr. A-man. Amos-shame most.”
She knows she sounds braver than she feels. No way that piece of shit is going to feed them to his black pig bosses. No matter what the deal, no matter what he’s gone and promised, she and Rosie aren’t anyone’s snatch snack. They are not for sale.
That night at suppertime Amos executes his slow punishment. He butchers one of the turtles, a treat for all of them after a straight week of fish, but when he divides it and hands around the coconut husk bowls, Tanya see he has given her turtle spawn, a mess of newly fertilized eggs. A slimy membrane sticks yellowy gelatinous eyeball-sized eggs together. Inside each translucent sack is the black bloodspot of the yet-to-be-hatched turtle. The eggs jiggle and dance in front of her. Amos loves it. He’s torturing her. He’s pushing as hard as he can without touching.
Rosie gets the treatment, too, but not with such severity. Amos gives her the neck with the turtle’s head still attached. It’s gross, but at least there is meat on the neck. She breaks the head from the top vertebrae and starts to gnaw on the bony, boiled length of it. Tanya’s so hungry she feels faint, but the eggs stop her cold. Tony and Max eat slowly, their enjoyment squelched by Amos’s nastiness.
She hates him. She hates him so much she takes those eggs and eats them while he watches. She doesn’t chew, she can’t chew, she just lets them slide down her throat like slippery blobs of fat, quick and slimy, and she never once takes her eyes off his. Defiance is the only way they will survive. Tanya thinks of Rosie’s kid David, how he ate those fuckin’ lichen to survive. She will eat anything to prove that she can’t be crushed. And it works. Amos, frowning, takes his own portion of turtle meat and leaves the fire to smoke or brood or plan his next move.
Tanya leaps up and crabs her way over to the latrine. The vomit she can’t control means she has to taste the disgusting turtle eggs twice. She covers her puke quickly, so she doesn’t have to see, and as she lurches upright, Rosie is there. She leads her back to the fire where Max has prepared hot coconut milk. He pretends not to notice the tears that salt Tanya’s portion of rice.
The next morning there is more punishment. Tanya gets served the head of a catfish, while Rosie, Max and Tony share the rest. She senses there is little pleasure for them eating. Tony’s eyes remain downcast. Maxi picks at his food, eats very little.
What’s on her plate is a hideous thing. Amos has made a great show of serving it to her by lifting it by the snout whiskers and letting it hang, bloated, over-cooked and purplish grey, over her bowl.
Again Tanya steels herself. She finds small pockets of flesh in front of the fins, snatches of tenderness at the cheeks. She forces those morsels out with her fingers, trying to avoid the sucker mouth and dead eyes of the catfish.
“He’s trying to break you,” Rosie says later, smuggling a slice of breadfruit and a rice ball into her hand after the men have gone to check the traps. “He’s trying to starve you out. Are you okay, Tanya?”
Tanya just nods, determined not to let him win, but at the same time wondering why it’s her he has chosen to punish and not Rosie.
Book club guide
“Two young women decide to blow their small, northern Canadian town and head south: the United States, Mexico and finally, Belize. The year is 1972.
A carefree adventure becomes deadly serious for Tanya (experienced, pragmatic, overly confident)…” >>
— Quentin Mills-Fenn Uptown
“Here’s the opening paragraph of Margaret Macpherson’s new novel, Body Trade:
“The body is gone. People are milling around the church basement, visiting, relieved and happy that Lloyd can go directly into the ground. No hanging with…” >>
— Bill Roberston The Star Phoenix
“Body Trade begins with two exquisitely drawn characters. Tanya Price is the quintessential bad girl who runs away, on many levels, from Hope (BC). At 22 years old, her outlook is informed by “temporary relationships” as daughter, girlfriend and friend—she…” >>
— Anne Sorbie Alberta Views
“If contemporary fiction is fighting for its life, its followers ought to be on the lookout for writers who are brave enough to swim against the current tide.
And if a writer has genuine star quality, a…” >>
— Lesley Hughes Winnipeg Free Press
“Two women in Yellowknife decide, on the spur of the moment, to drop everything, leave their jobs and head to Mexico. Tanya, the one with the Rambler, is a world-weary white woman working in the residential school; her travelling companion…” >>
— Cheryl Purdey Edmonton Journal