Prime No Great Mischief –

Alistair MacLeod Musters All Of The Skill And Grace That Have Won Him An International Following To Give Us No Great Mischief, The Story Of A Fiercely Loyal Family And The Tradition That Drives ItGenerations After Their Forebears Went Into Exile, The MacDonalds Still Face Seemingly Unmitigated Hardships And Cruelties Of Life Alexander, Orphaned As A Child By A Horrific Tragedy, Has Nevertheless Gained Some Success In The World Even His Older Brother, Calum, A Nearly Destitute Alcoholic Living On Toronto S Skid Row, Has Been Scarred By Another Tragedy But, Like All His Clansman, Alexander Is Sustained By A Family History That Seems To Run Through His Veins And Through These Lovingly Recounted Stories Wildly Comic Or Heartbreakingly Tragic We Discover The Hope Against Hope Upon Which Every Family Must Sometimes Rely This is a story of lives which turned out differently than was intended It is hard when looking at the pasts of other people to understand the fine points of their lives It is difficult to know the exact shadings of dates which were never written down and to know the intricacies of events which we have not lived through ourselves but only viewed from the distances of time and space Perhaps, he said after a pause, it s just the same sadness in different packages Oh well, said Grandma, we should be grateful for what we ve had It was so sudden and so unexpected that there seemed no place to turn Nothing to grasp nor to hold It seemed so complex All of us are better when we re loved You ve got to take the bitter with the sweet. April 21, 2014 Rest in peace, Alistair MacLeod Died April 20, 2014.His extraordinary style will never be matched. Another outstanding piece of storytelling from this great Canadian writer He uses repetition of images and phrases throughout the book as a very effective tool It gives the story both a rhythm and an anchor, continually bringing you back to reminders of what binds the clan and their shared history.This is the story of the Scottish clan of Calum the Red, who came to Nova Scotia over 200 years ago They come from that rich ancient oral tradition where the family stories are repeated endlessly through the centuries, and added to as events progress They re all so hopelessly inbred within the clan that they can barely keep track of who s who There are THREE Alexander MacDonalds in the story All cousins who basically look the same, redheaded but dark eyed Even the dogs are inbred, descended from the brown dog Calum the Red brought from Scotland Given the confusing family ties, I thought the author did an amazing job of setting them apart so I could keep track of all the people.The main story takes place in modern times, with the narrator telling his story of being raised by his grandparents after his parents died when he was three years old The behaviors and connections of the clan are so deeply rooted in the ancestral experiences that the oft repeated histories and songs sometimes appear real and important than current events. I just learned that Alistair MacLeod died yesterday This shouldn t be such a shock he was 77, and suffered a major stroke in January which forced him to remain in a hospital in Windsor, Ontario a city where he lived and taught, and ultimately passed away I was reading materials on him work just a few weeks ago and he was still with us, and now he s not Despite being an acclaimed author in his native Canada and abroad, Mr MacLeod remained a very private person I had no idea about his condition, and the abrupt news of his death were unexpected and touched me No Great Mischief is Alistair MacLeod s only novel before it he was mostly known for his short stories, which were ultimately collected in Island The Complete Stories Alistair MacLeod was born in North Battleford, in the prairie province of Saskatchewan, but his fiction is set in the Canadian maritimes mostly in Nova Scotia s Cape Breton Island, where he came to live at the age of 10 Although he later moved to Windsor and taught at the local university for over four decades, every year he returned to Cape Breton for the summer The long history of the island, its unique culture and unrelenting weather provided plenty of inspiration for these fictions, which ultimately culminated in this book Macleod was 64 when it was first published, and it has since won him a number of awards and honors In 2009 was voted to be Atlantic Canada s greatest book of all time No Great Mischief begins in the fall, my favorite season, with the narration of Alexander MacDonald, a successful orthodontist who journeys across southwestern Ontario on Highway 401, from his home in Windsor towards the city of Toronto, where he is to see Calum, his older brother It is September, the golden month, and as Alexander notes in the splendid autumn sunshine the bounty of the land is almost overwhelming, as if it is the manifestation of a poem by Keats and the drive to Toronto becomes one towards the past, as the emotional ties between brothers give way towards a narrative mirroring almost whole of Canadian history, starting from the expulsion of Calum MacDonald and his family from the Scottish Highlands in 1779 and their journey and subsequent arrival in Cape Breton, the land of trees, where they would form the clann Chalum Ruaidh a closely knit community with its own identity and history The title comes from general James Wolfe s assertion of the fierce Scottish Highlanders, whom he summoned to fight in the Battle of Plains of Abraham hey are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country, and no great mischief if they fall This is and most likely will remain Alistair MacLeod s only novel He was a perfectionist, and one who never rewrote his work he wrote a sentence of a story, waited for the muses, and wrote another sentence He also wrote the final sentence halfway through, as a light to guide him throughout it No Great Mischief in both form and theme is reminiscent of the oral tradition of storytelling, when an elder would sit down in front of his audience and begin to tell his story there aren t any wasted words here, and in its short length under 300 pages the novel manages to describe history of generations of people and a country It isn t a perfect book there are many moments where MacLeod veers too close to bathos, such as by having his characters randomly break into songs in Gaelic one too many times and the symbolism is sometimes too obvious there s one scene where a character walks into a room with a t shirt saying living in the past is not living up to our potential but it is a book full of genuine charm and purely human heart, a product of great effort and time, and one that I will read again This is why, in honor of the author, I am giving it the extra fifth star with sadness, as we will not read a story by him again Rest in Peace, Mr MacLeodAll of us are better when we re loved I guess this is not my sort of book It is the tale of Scots in Cape Breton and in particular a branch of the MacDonalds, and makes much of how they never forgot their roots, always stick together, and still speak Gaelic It won various prizes and is considered the best Atlantic Canadian novel But how it got so esteemed I have no idea I found it tiresome and longwinded There is really not much of a plot except a bunch of disjointed anecdotes The characters are little than mouthpieces for their ethnic background continually making historical references to Culloden and Wolfe at any moment and continually reciting the same lines It is difficult to know who is speaking or where they are speaking since they all say the same things all the time And nothing much happens but even what does happen makes little or no impact since none of the characters seem to have any depth One character called Alexander MacDonald gets replaced by another character called Alexander MacDonald for no particular reason The traveling to Scotland falls particularly flat as everyone they meet is out of a North American fantasy of the Scottish Highlands Immediately recognizing the MacDonalds by their red hair and black eyes and talking of the 45 and Prince Charlie as if it all happened yesterday.