Some time ago we were in Freebird Books, a gotta-check-it-out used bookstore on Columbia Street, not far from Brooklyn Bridge Park. While browsing there, I found and purchased a treasure: the “complete stories” by one of my favorite authors, Alistair MacLeod, published under the title “Island.”
A few months before I was saddened to read that MacLeod had passed away. It was at least fifteen years earlier that I’d first heard of MacLeod from my friend Ray Smith, who with his wife Joyce Carol Oates ran the powerfully good literary journal, Ontario Review, until his untimely death in 2008.
At that time I got a copy of “The Last Salt Gift of Blood” and was amazed with the quality of the stories. I am not alone in thinking this way. In fact, and Colm Toibin and Carmen Callil included MacLeod in their book “The Modern Library: The 200 Best Novels in English Since 1950. “Knowing that I could tell other readers about [MacLeod] was the high point of The Modern Library Project for me,” Toibin said.
What a gift MacLeod has at describing a boy’s regard of his father: the proud working man. Here’s a sample, from the story “The Vastness of the Dark” …
“As long as I can remember [Father] has finished dressing while walking, but he does not handle buttons or buckles so well since the dynamite stick at the little mine where he used to work ripped the first two fingers from his scarred right hand. Now the remaining fingers try to do what is expected of them: to hold, to button, to buckle, to adjust, but they do so with what seems a sort of groping uncertainty bordering on despair. As if they realized that there is now just too much for them to do, even though they try as best they can.”
Alastair MacLeod: definitely a great who is missed. Get thee to bookstore and find out for yourself.
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