Capitalist pursuits of South Sea treasures
Bright and Distant Shores
by Dominic Smith
Allen & Unwin, $29.99 pb, 488 pp, 9781742374161
Owen Graves, by occupation a house wrecker and by nature a collector, is summoned to the world’s tallest building by the president of Chicago’s First Equitable Insurance Company. Relentless entrepreneur Hale Gray plans to underwrite insurance policies for the masses by seducing them with exotica from the South Sea Islands, as well as live savages in native huts on the roof of his skyscraper. Inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s travelogues and letters extolling life amid coral reefs and archipelagos, which were published in Chicago’s Tribune, Owen has already been on a collecting expedition. He agrees to Gray’s terms, and takes responsibility for Jethro, Hale’s weak, inept son.