Gerry B's Book Reviews

River of the Brokenhearted, by David Adams Richards

A dynastic novel as Canadian as maple syrup…

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Click to purchase at Barnes and Noble. Also available in Kindle format.

Click to purchase at Barnes and Noble. Also available in Kindle format.

(Non-GBLT)

Publisher’s Story blurb: In the 1920s, Janie McLeary and George King run one of the first movie theatres in the Maritimes. The marriage of the young Irish Catholic woman to an older English man is thought scandalous, but they work happily together, playing music to accompany the films. When George succumbs to illness and dies, leaving Janie with one young child and another on the way, the unscrupulous Joey Elias tries to take over the business. But Janie guards the theatre with a shotgun, and still in mourning, re-opens it herself. “If there was no real bliss in Janie’s life,” recounts her grandson, “there were moments of triumph.”

One night, deceived by the bank manager and Elias into believing she will lose her mortgage, Janie resolves to go and ask for money from the Catholic houses. Elias has sent out men to stop her, so she leaps out the back window and with a broken rib she swims in the dark across the icy Miramichi River, doubting her own sanity. Yet, seeing these people swayed into immoral actions because of their desire to please others and their fear of being outcast, she thinks to herself that “…all her life she had been forced to act in a way uncommon with others… Was sanity doing what they did? And if it was, was it moral or justified to be sane?”

Astonishingly, she finds herself face to face that night with influential Lord Beaverbrook, who sees in her tremendous character and saves her business. Not only does she survive, she prospers; she becomes wealthy, but ostracized. Even her own father helps Elias plot against her. Yet Janie McLeary King thwarts them and brings first-run talking pictures to the town.

Meanwhile, she employs Rebecca from the rival Druken family to look after her children. Jealous, and a protégé of Elias, Rebecca mistreats her young charges. The boy Miles longs to be a performer, but Rebecca convinces him he is hated, and he inherits his mother’s enemies. The only person who truly loves her, he is kept under his mother’s influence until, eventually, he takes a job as the theatre’s projectionist. He drinks heavily all his life, tends his flowers, and talks of things no-one believes, until the mystery at the heart of the novel finally unravels.

“At six I began to realize that my father was somewhat different,” says Miles King’s son Wendell, who narrates the saga in an attempt to find answers in the past and understand “how I was damned.” It is a many-layered epic of rivalries, misunderstandings, rumours; the abuse of power, what weak people will do for love, and the true power of doing right; of a pioneer and her legacy in the lives of her son and grandchildren.

About the author: David Adams Richards (born 17 October 1950) is a Canadian novelist, essayist, screenwriter and poet.

Born in Newcastle, New Brunswick, Richards left St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick, one course shy of completing a B.A. Richards has been a writer-in-residence at various universities and colleges across Canada, including the University of New Brunswick.

Richards has received numerous awards including 2 Gemini Awards for scriptwriting for Small Gifts and “For Those Who Hunt The Wounded Down”, the Alden Nowlan Award for Excellence in the Arts, and the Canadian Authors Association Award for his novel Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace. Richards is one of only three writers to have won in both the fiction and non-fiction categories of the Governor General’s Award. He won the 1988 fiction award for Nights Below Station Street and the 1998 non-fiction award for Lines on the Water: A Fisherman’s Life on the Miramichi. He was also a co-winner of the 2000 Giller Prize for Mercy Among the Children.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

The present day City of Miramichi, on the river from which it derives its name.

The present day City of Miramichi, on the river from which it derives its name.

I must admit that I have been working on this novel, River of the Brokenhearted by David Adams Richards [Arcade Publishing, January 12, 2012] (450 pags.) for a while, but like a glass of mellow wine it never suffered from age.

The people of Canada’s maritime region are great story tellers, as witness Alistair MacLeod, Linden MacIntyre, and now David Adams Richards, the latter two being both Giller Prize winters. Part of this remarkable ability may come the maritime provinces themselves, which, like most seafaring cultures, seem to have an uncommonly large population of characters just waiting to be written about.

This, coupled with David Richards’ keen ability to capitalize on every nuance of a character’s personality, makes this pithy read from that point of view, alone.

Plot wise it covers four generation, and so the pace is understandably slow in places, but never tedious. The topic of generational feuds on Canadian soil could, I think, only ring true in the Maritimes with its large population of Scots and Irish, as could the iron-willed resilience of Janie McLeary, but both are rich fodder and credible in every way.

One of the interesting touches was the inclusion of Nova Scotian, Max Aitkin (“Lord Beaverbrook”), for no story about Nova Scotia for the time would be complete without him.

I am unimpressed by the both the Giller and the GG awards, but in this case I believe they are well placed. 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: Frank Augustyn, OC, Canada’s ‘Principal’ Principal Dancer…

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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.

       

Notice to all those who have requested a book reviewThank you for your interest, and my apologies for not responding to your request individually. I’m getting there, but the numbers have been overwhelming. Please extend your patience just a bit longer. Thanks again!

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June 2, 2014 Posted by | Canadian content, Fiction, Historical period, non GBLT, Nova Scotia Setting, Twentieth century historical | Leave a comment

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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Viewers of Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 67,609

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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.

       

        

Notice to all those who have requested a book reviewThank you for your interest, and my apologies for not responding to your request individually. I’m getting there, but the numbers have been overwhelming. Please extend your patience just a bit longer.Thanks again!


Thanks for dropping by! I’ll have another novel ready for next week, same URL, so drop back soon.

 

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

The Cartographer of No Man’s Land: A Novel by P.S. Duffy

happy new year

A well-balanced blend of story-telling and historical fact.

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cartographer - coverPublisher’s blurb: From a hardscrabble fishing village in Nova Scotia to the collapsing trenches of France, a richly atmospheric debut novel about a family divided by World War I.

When adventurous Ebbin goes missing at the front in 1916, Angus defies his pacifist upbringing to join the war and search for his beloved brother-in-law. With his navigation experience, Angus is assured a position as a cartographer in London. But upon arriving overseas he is instead sent directly into the trenches, where he experiences the visceral shock of battle. Meanwhile, at home, his perceptive son Simon Peter must navigate escalating hostility in a fishing village torn by grief and a rising suspicion of anyone expressing less than patriotic enthusiasm for the war.

With the intimacy of The Song of Achilles and the epic scope of The Invisible BridgeThe Cartographer of No Man’s Land offers a lyrical and lasting portrayal of World War I and the lives that were forever changed by it, both on the battlefield and at home.

About the author: P.S. Duffy grew up in Baltimore, MD and spent summers sailing in Nova Scotia. She has a degree in History from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec and a Ph.D. in Communication Disorders from the University of Minnesota. Currently, she is a science writer for the Mayo Clinic Rochester, MN where she lives with her husband. The Cartographer of No Man’s Land is her first novel.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

While this is not a GBLT novel, it could be with just a few minor twists. Set in Nova Scotia during WWI, The Cartographer of No Man’s Land: A Novel, by P.S, Duffy [Liveright, October 28, 2013], is an evocative story of human nature that also includes a stint in the hell-hole-trenches of France.

Angus MacGrath is a man caught in the centre of competing forces. He is a fisherman with artistic aspirations–contrary to his father’s idea of what a man should do–and a husband to a wife who’s affections have grown cold. To make matters worse, his brother-in-law, Ebbin, a headstrong youth, has gone missing somewhere in France.

With nothing compelling him to remain at home, Angus enlists as a cartographer with the idea of searching for Ebbin, but when he gets to England he is quickly transferred to the front lines. Needless to say, life in the trenches is a far cry from Snag Harbour, or cartography, and so Angus is transformed by the experience in many ways.

Meanwhile, back home, Angus’ son Simon is learning about the vagaries of life, as well. He, too, is caught-up in the midst of divergent forces: His grandfather’s pacifist sentiments, held by many of the older generation, versus the virulent form of patriotism that gripped nearly everyone at the beginning of WWI. Many eagerly answered the call, and many reluctantly died.

As I say, with a few simple twists this could have been a GBLT story, but even so it is a engrossing study of human nature, set in a turbulent time, and in a colourful and picturesque setting. Five bees.

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Viewers to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 60,846

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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 little-known people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest post:  “Stonehenge Ontario”… Another of Canada’s hidden secrets.

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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.

                  

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Notice to all those who have requested a book review

Thank you for your interest, and my apologies for not responding to your request individually. I’m getting there, but the numbers have been overwhelming. Please extend your patience just a bit longer.

Thanks again!

Thanks for dropping by! I’ll have another novel ready for next week, same URL, so drop back soon.

December 30, 2013 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Fiction, Historical period, Nova Scotia Setting | Leave a comment

   

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