Why Lynn Coady's Saints of Big Harbour is a Canadian must-read for Wendy Bergfeldt
July 1, 2017 marks 150 years since Confederation in Canada. CBC Books is creating the Great Canadian Reading List — a list of 150 books curated by you.
"This fictional Cape Breton town is not the fishing and farming village one might find in the writings of Alistair MacLeod. In MacLeod's books, families are tied together by rich, pre-War traditional cultures, bloodlines and histories. The tragedy of one sends ripples throughout lives of others, often over generations. Coady's Saints of Big Harbour is a bigger town, post-industrial and fractured. In the roughly two generations since MacLeod's villages dotted the coastline, this place is a grind of poverty, boredom, Saturday night parking lot punch-ups, corrosive gossip and the almost unbearable limitations of a breed of hyper-masculinity that anyone who grew up in 1970s and 1980s small town Canada will recognize. Tragedy is individual. But then so is redemption.
"This story is told through the eyes of a number of characters. This was a problem for some of the book's critics when it was first released. I, however, enjoyed the sweep of perspective. The main character, Guy Boucher, is an Acadian, more likeable version Holden Caulfield. He is also is the target of a malicious rumour. His Uncle Isadore is a charismatic storyteller, selfish, bombastic and yet artful in his ability to weave boozy observation with local lore to the delight and admiration of a certain segment of the community. The most interesting character, for my money, was Alison Mason, a draft dodger, sometime schoolteacher and Isadore's drinking buddy. His perspective as an outsider holds the story together, delivering the powerful denouement in a crystal clear moment of realization.
"This is a Canada some of us will remember quite clearly. In fact, it probably still exists for a lot of teenagers. Saints of Big Harbour is a highly enjoyable read and a must for CanCon fans!"
Wendy Bergfeldt is the host of Mainstreet Cape Breton, which airs from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays on CBC Radio One in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.