Sixteen spare, evocative masterworks: men and women acting out their own peculiar mortality against the unforgiving landscape of Cape Breton Island.Until the recent publication of Alistair MacLeod's first novel, No Great Mischief, his reputation as one of Canada's most important writers rested entirely on the stories collected in this book, and on this basis he was included in the Modern Library's 200 greatest writers in English since 1950.
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"Once there was a family with a Highland name who lived beside the sea." So begins "As Birds Bring Forth the Sun," a 1985 entry from Island. The story continues, "And the man had a dog of which he was very fond." And there you have the basic elements of an Alistair MacLeod story: dog, family, and sea. The author--whose 2000 novel No Great Mischief won him a measure of long-overdue acclaim--shuffles these elements into a surprisingly infinite variety of configurations, always with the same precise, confident, quiet language.
His big theme is the abandonment of the rural. Though his characters live in the fishing communities of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, the seaside isn't a place where they dwell contentedly. In half the stories, young men and boys feel a pull toward academe and the center of the country. In the other half, academically successful middle-aged men return to the wild eastern coast of Canada to try to reclaim the life they left behind. Both dilemmas are impossible to resolve--no one can be both a city mouse and a country mouse--and MacLeod wisely doesn't offer easy solutions.
What makes the writing sing, though, is the specificity of his descriptions of rural life. He tells you exactly how things work: "The sheep move in and out of their lean-to shelter, restlessly stamping their feet or huddling together in tightly packed groups. A conspiracy of wool against the cold." The people here are ultimately defined by the physical world, and MacLeod has a farmer's visceral feel for geography. As he writes in "The Lost Salt Gift of Blood": "Even farther out, somewhere beyond Cape Spear lies Dublin and the Irish coast; far away but still the nearest land, and closer now than is Toronto or Detroit, to say nothing of North America's more western cities; seeming almost hazily visible now in imagination's mist." This is regional fiction in the best sense: it belongs to one perfectly evoked place. --Claire DedererFrom the Publisher:
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Book Description Book Condition: New. Gift Quality Book in Excellent Condition. Bookseller Inventory # 36SEQU0019K0
Book Description W. W. Norton & Company, 2001. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. First. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0393050351
Book Description W. W. Norton & Company, 2001. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110393050351