No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod
2nd Canadian Book Challenge; IMPAC Dublin winner 2001
Some places are so ingrained into people, that even when they leave, they consider it home, until the end of their time. The Maritimes are like that, and MacLeod has written his love letter to Cape Breton in this novel.
"Later his body moved inland, but his great heart remained behind." When I think of all the people who have left here to go to Ontario, the Boston states, Fort McMurray, they are all still from Cape Breton or PEI and the goal is to get back here eventually. No matter where they roam, they try to return to where they left their heart.
This idea has been around since the old days, so even though Cape Breton is home, they came from Scotland originally, or from Prince Edward Island via Ireland. And although it has been hundreds of years, that connection to the homeland is still strong and the stories have stayed alive. Alexander MacDonald of Clan Red Calum, the narrator, knows the stories of his family, his clan, back to the battle of Culloden and the Plains of Abraham.
It's funny because this book uses the Clan idea, that they all come from the same person, Calum MacDonald, and they all know the same stories and have a clannish quality. I read a book last year, Mercy by Jodi Picoult that used the same family trait and it just didn't seen quite right to me. I'm not sure why I accepted it this time. It could just be the setting of the 1960s and 1970s made it seem more reasonable, as if the clans were still pretty clannish here in the Maritimes and it wouldn't work in present day Massachusetts.
So much of this book resonated with me. I've heard these stories, I know these people. The phrases, the way of talking, repeating the same phrases and cliches. The repetitive method of always describing someone the same way, that keeps their history attached to them like a barnacle. The way of giving a backhanded compliments. One of my favorite lines from the book was, "He might not be the kind of man you'd invite to sing and dance and do imitations at your party, but he is a good man nonetheless." I can picture that man perfectly.
This book is also about family and that connection. There is tragedy and heartbreak and sticking together because that's what families do - always look after your blood.
"All of us are better when we're loved."