I've become familiar with the author in recent years by way of his story stories found in many collections and anthologies. It was a personal reading goal for 2011 to read one of his novels. While urban fantasy isn't usually my thing, Trader exposed more of my likes and dislikes concerning the author than the genre.
Max Trader is a high-end guitar maker and all-around regular (if not boring) kinda guy. He wakes up one morning in full possession of his mind and wits inside his Johnny Devlin's body. How this happened is never explained or given much thought. Trader only thinks of how he can get his body back and stop living in Devlin's nightmarish life with its inexhaustible problems.
The primary theme is identity and what makes us who we are. My initial thoughts upon reading about a hundred pages in were of the success of the the medical field's face transplant patients. If no one you know recognizes you as you, are you still the same person? Trader wasn't that deep by far as even after Trader and Devlin switch bodies both are still recognized by other people as the person whose body they are currently in. I didn't really care for the development of this idea but more due to it's repetition than the fault of Trader and Devlin.
The dichotomy of the two's lives couldn't be further contrasted, but the search for identity theme became a bit diluted when the focus, while never exactly shifting, encompassed Nina, Lisa, and Tonya. Nia is a teenager and dealing with teenage problems; Lisa, Nina's mother, has only just confirmed that her sexual identity isn't what she thought it was; and Tonya, Johnny's ex, is determined to define her self as something other than who she is currently sleeping with. The reader is a bit inundated with scared, insecure people and their identity problems, added to which some of the problems are more interesting than others. Lisa, and Nina felt necessary to the story. Tonya was a duplicate of Max, both coasted through life with no strong passions or desires; Max was defined by his guitars, Tonya her boyfriends. The horribly named, Zeffy, was the novel's ever present antagonist and 'voice of reason.' My primary issue with the cast isn't it's size rather that de Lint treats them all as primary characters. The story is about Max and Johnny but it was sometimes hard to see this as equal time was given to all other characters.
In addition to character and theme repetition, pay attention to the names: Zeffy, Johnny, Jilly, Janossy, Gheordie, Julie, Wendy, Christie; Tonya, Nina, Lisa... I haven't exhausted the character list; I've merely decided to stop here. All in all, this book suffered from too much homogeny to allow the conflict Johnny and Max to ever take center stage.
Trader is always on the cusp of dealing with very large social issues and it seemed to be more of de Lint's intention to merely plant a seed of thought than develop the idea. There was certainly enough thematic material to indulge some of these social issues but seeing all the characters given I'm glad de Lint chose not to go the way of social commentary as it would have inflated the book even further. His prose is gorgeous. His voice reminds me of Guy Gavriel Kay. Trader was a book I wanted to like more than I did. I'll continue to seek out de Lint's work, but it will be the short stories that initially brought him to my attention where I feel his writing is more strongly focused, at least compared to this particular novel.