Alistair MacLeod,
(Vintage, 2002)

It takes 16 stories to present a many-faceted picture of Cape Breton Island that will stay in the mind forever. Read about Scotland's Highland Clearances. Read about Nova Scotia's turbulent early history and expect to see these vivid stories as they re-surface like green glass fishing floats.

Alistair MacLeod, raised in Cape Breton, has a writer's eye for seeing the complexity of loving a place and stepping out into the wider world, leaving it behind. MacLeod returns in the benign summers, but on his own terms. Some of his stories are a consideration of the stayers-on, the ones unable to leave.

The fishermen of Island are introduced in "The Boat," the first story of the lot. A book-loving father passes on his obsession of reading and collecting books to his son, whom he fears will follow him setting out the lobster traps as a way of life. The sea has humbled him and one day, the boy at his side, it takes him hostage. A casual promise sets the boy free to leave.

Many of these stories follow the half-enigmatic promise of "The Boat" -- and each of them makes a contribution to the whole. Story after story, the island's charm is revealed, as well as its siren song.

My favorite is "Clearances," surely because it is an old-man-and-his-dog tale. It is the last story in the book, a matter of perfect placement. It is guaranteed to take your breath away.

Short stories are heady and powerful in their impact. Anything so condensed is full of sharp edges. MacLeod is a true craftsman, a writer's writer.

- Rambles
written by Jean Marchand
published 15 March 2003

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