by Edith Cody-Rice
The great Alistair MacLeod died in April of 2014. Although his output is not large, it is profound and he will probably be best remembered for his novel of Cape Breton life No Great Mischief . Remembrance, which came out in book form for the first time this summer, was his last story. It was commissioned by the Vancouver Writers Fest to celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2012 and released at that time as a limited edition chapbook.
Remembrance is a short little story , only 42 pages long, of three generations of Cape Bretoners. The three men, grandfather, father and son, all named David MacDonald, in the best Cape Breton tradition, gather for Remembrance Day: the grandfather, nearly 90; his son in his late 60’s and the grandson, of an undeclared age, but, from his accomplishments, probably in his late 40’s. The first two chapters of the story, narrated in the the 3rd person, concern the young lives of father and son and the last is narrated by the grandson who is driving to join his older relatives.
The grandfather, as a young man, married a young sexually avaricious woman and went off to World War II to escape poverty and to provide her with a regular paycheck. He witnesses the horrors of the war but survives to return to Cape Breton and an obviously unfaithful wife. The subsequent stories of three generations all arise, directly or indirectly, out of that war. In a small story of a small family, the consequences of the war come to life.
As always, the style is simple, direct, crisp and clean but with a cadence and weight to the words which gives them gravity. The impression created is of a clear, simple life lived with integrity by complex characters. As always with Alistair Macleod, a worthwhile read.
The only quibble is with the price. $20 retail is pretty steep for a 42 page book but fans of Macleod may find it worthwhile to possess his last written work.
Remembrance is published by McClelland &Stewart and is available at Mill Street Books in Almonte