Alistair MacLeod

February 15, 2016 at 11:15 pm (Uncategorized)

In the mid 1990s, I lived in small-town Nova Scotia. I didn’t know much about the area before I moved there except for the labour struggles in Cape Breton’s coal fields in the early part of the twentieth century. So, it was a process of exploration. I’m not sure where I came across Alistair MacLeod’s work, but the effect was instantaneous attraction. MacLeod was born in Saskatchewan in 1936 though his family was from Cape Breton. When he was 10, the family returned to Caper Breton, and it is Cape Breton that forms the centre of his work.

To read one of MacLeod’s stories is like meeting a new person, but within minutes you are old friends. Such is the gift of his storytelling that the characters feel like people you have always known, and though there is a sadness which colours all of them, there is also hope.

For a writer of his ability, he produced comparatively little work. For example, the brilliant dhort story writer Alice Munro has written hundred of stories of an exceptionally high quality. MacLeod published only two collections, The Lost Salt Gift of Blood and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories.  Later, he published a novel (I saw him read from that before it was published) No Great Mischief. His short stories were bound into a single volume Island containing two new short stories “Clearances” and “Island.” Until a few weeks back, I hadn’t read the two new stories, but I borrowed the book from the local library and spent a couple of hours with them and some of the other old friends from my past.

I won’t attempt to review them, or provide summaries. The best thing to do is to read them. MacLeod died in 2014, so his entire body of work could be read over a long weekend. You’ll be doing yourself a service if you do.

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PS After I wrote the above, I remembered that I had written a brief obit for MacLeod, and in it mentioned I first heard his name in an English class at St. Francis Xavier University.

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1 Comment

  1. gmacmedia said,

    Great to read that you are a fan of Alistair. He is a cousin of mine and my dad was quite close to him growing up and even the many years after. Not only was he a talented writer but he was a gentleman with great grace and humility. He was most proud of his kids who are all, as they say, chips off the old block and talented in their own way. Lewis lived in Edmonton for a while during his post-doc and we spent much time drinking beers and solving the worlds problems. You may be able to hear some of Lewis’ songs online – not surprisingly he’s a fantastic lyricist. Alistair’s eldest son Alexander is a strong short-story writer himself and was even short-listed for a GG award.

    Hope you are well. Drop me a line sometime.

    Xox Gerard

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