Gerry B's Book Reviews

Island: The Complete Stories, by Alistair MacLeod

This review is in commemoration of Alistair MacLeod (July 20, 1936 – April 20, 2014), the “bard of Cape Breton,” whose voice has been silenced in life, but his meticulously crafted stories will live on as long as people enjoy outstanding literature.

 

Island - allistair mcleod

“The genius of his stories is to render his fictional world as timeless.” —Colm Tóibín

 

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island - coverA thumbnail synopsis:  The sixteen exquisitely crafted stories in Island prove Alistair MacLeod to be a master. Quietly, precisely, he has created a body of work that is among the greatest to appear in English in the last fifty years.

A book-besotted patriarch releases his only son from the obligations of the sea. A father provokes his young son to violence when he reluctantly sells the family horse. A passionate girl who grows up on a nearly deserted island turns into an ever-wistful woman when her one true love is felled by a logging accident. A dying young man listens to his grandmother play the old Gaelic songs on her ancient violin as they both fend off the inevitable. The events that propel MacLeod’s stories convince us of the importance of tradition, the beauty of the landscape, and the necessity of memory.

 

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Alistair MacLeod reciving the Order of Canada from Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean, 27th Governor General of Canada.

Alistair MacLeod reciving the Order of Canada from Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean, 27th Governor General of Canada.

About the author: When MacLeod was ten his family moved to a farm in Dunvegan, Inverness County on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island. After completing high school, MacLeod attended teacher’s college in Truro and then taught school. He studied at St. Francis Xavier University between 1957 and 1960 and graduated with a BA and B.Ed. He then went on to receive his MA in 1961 from the University of New Brunswick and his PhD in 1968 from the University of Notre Dame. A specialist in British literature of the nineteenth century, MacLeod taught English for three years at Indiana University before accepting a post in 1969 at the University of Windsor as professor of English and creative writing. During the summer, his family resided in Cape Breton, where he spent part of his time “writing in a cliff-top cabin looking west towards Prince Edward Island.” ~ Wikipedia

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Review by Gerry Burnie

There are only two ways one can go with a review of Alistair MacLeod’s works, i.e. short or long. While not a prolific writer—his one novel, “No Great Mischief” is his only lengthy work—his sixteen short stories, ranging from 1968 to 1999, are nuggets of the writer’s craft. Brought together in a single collection with a simple, but oh-so-appropriate-name of Island: The Complete Stories [Emblem Editions, December 3, 2010] they represent his evolution from an academic style of writing—i.e. tight, and word-perfect—to a more open form without loosing any of the precision.

I think what stands out about Macleod’s stories is the indisputable fact that he understood his characters. The same thing applies to his beloved Cape Breton setting, which is a continuing theme in all his stories, and which both challenges and shapes the people who cling to it.

Nonetheless, set against this rugged background is a quiet sort of love (of both people and loyal animals) that prevails in spite of the challenges. Like the wife who keeps an anxious vigil for her overdue husband until the trees seem to take on human forms to move in her direction.

There are also tales of family, like the miner who laments that his sons will probably leave the island to pursue an easier life ‘down the road’, and of the pull of ancestry versus fading memories and evolving attitudes.

There is something for everyone in the collected works of Alistair MacLeod, but most of all it is a celebration of excellence in short story genre. Five bees.

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 Interested in Canadian history? Want to know more? Then visit my new page:  In Praise of Canadian History.

 It is a collection of people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest post:  The Family Compact of Upper Canada: Democracy has never come easily …

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If you would like to learn more about my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

       

        

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April 28, 2014 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian Irish tradition, Fiction, non GBLT, Nova Scotia Setting | Leave a comment

Two Irish Lads , by Gerry Burnie

Note: A tribute to St. Patrick’s Day. This review by Mark Probst originally appeared in Speak its Name, April 15, 2009.

 

 

two irish lads - final - medStory blurb: Two Irish Lads is a pioneer story with a difference. It is at once a carefully-researched depiction of pioneer life in the early part of the nineteenth century, and also a love story of two men who might have lived during such a challenging time.

Sean and Patrick McConaghy are two young cousins who set sail from Ireland one St. Patrick’s Day in 1820, and after a long and eventful crossing of the Atlantic, they tackle the mighty St. Lawrence River with a band of rugged voyageurs to eventually settle in the wilderness of Upper Canada.

Here they are not only confronted by the daunting task of carving a homestead out of the vast primeval forest, but also the ever-present danger of living as a devoted couple in a world where the possibilities of humiliation and death stalked them at every turn if their secret should ever be discovered.

It is a tale that also encompasses mystery, tragedy, brawling, humour and pathos, and altogether it will have you turning pages to discover what is about to happen next.

About the author: Gerry Burnie is a dedicated Canadian author, best known for his historical fictions, Two Irish Ladsand Nor All Thy Tears: Journey to Big SkyNow retired, he has had a long and varied career. For twenty-five years prior to his retirement, he lectured on the topics of political science and law, and then turned his interest to history for a further five years. In addition, he has been an actor, singer, dancer, artist and a municipal politician at various times in his life.

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Review by Mark Probst – Author of “The Filly

Gerry Burnie’s Two Irish Lads is a quaint tale of second cousins Sean and Patrick McConaghy who migrate to Canada from their homeland of Ireland in the year 1820. With their life’s savings they intended to buy some land in “upper Canada” (the area now known as Ontario) and make a good life as farmers with the hope of prosperity.

Once they arrive they visit the land office and select a choice piece of property. With a few supplies and a tent, they take on the task of clearing the land, hoping to build a shelter before winter. The two lads eventually realize they are in love. One of the settlement’s wealthy leaders, Nealon, takes them under his wing, giving them advice, arranging a cabin-raising for them, and even getting Sean a job as a schoolmaster. It is soon revealed that he has an ulterior motive in that he hopes they might marry his two daughters.

There are a few harsh realities through which they must persevere, before all the dust settles, but I won’t spoil it by revealing any more.

The story is written in the style of Sean’s daily journal. While the first few chapters do indeed read like an authentic journal, thankfully Burnie then shifts to more of a first-person narrative than how a real journal would read, but that is simply to accommodate the storytelling process.

Burnie’s knowledge and research shine through in that the story beautifully describes 19th century Irish customs and decorum. He even uses a few Gaelic phrases, always with translation, and the dialog sounds so right you can practically hear the Irish brogue.

I thought the characters were well-developed and exuded a great deal of charm. Sean was the leader and sensible one, whereas the younger Patrick was more carefree and daring. While he yearned to be able to be open and proclaim his “secret love” to the world, he deferred to Sean’s wisdom and together they balanced each other out. The details of frontier life were also well researched, and the descriptions were vivid enough to give us a good picture of the landscapes and the settlements.

My quibbles are minor – I’d have liked to see more of Sean actually teaching the children, and I felt there were a few times some of the characters were just a little too perky for my taste.

I really enjoyed Two Irish Lads. It suits my personal taste of an upbeat depiction of frontier life, and I especially like stories where people come together to help each other and fight against the evils that threaten them. I look forward to reading more from this gifted author.

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If you would like to learn more about my other books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

                

 

March 12, 2011 Posted by | Canadian author, Canadian content, Canadian frontier stories, Canadian historical content, Canadian Irish tradition, Coming out, Fiction, gay cousins, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay Literature, gay pioneer christmas, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Homesteading in Canada, Irish, Irish pioneers in Canada, Irish romance, M/M love and adventure, Sea voyage from Ireland | 1 Comment

   

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