Twenty-Six by Leo McKay Jr. (McClelland & Stewart), 400 pages, $32.99 cloth. Rating: NNN
Leo Mckay Jr.'s first novel has references to Tim Hortons, Zellers and milky tea as a cure for hangover. You know it's Canadian. Set in Nova Scotia, it's a fictional account of a mining disaster that tears a family apart. Since it's depressing, bleak and swimming in despair, I was all set to hate it. I loved it.
Twenty-six follows the life of the Burrows family: Ennis; his wife, Dunya; and their two sons, Arvel and Ziv, the alpha males of the town. Ennis is short-tempered and prone to drink - traits shared by many of the men in this novel. He's a Neanderthal whose love for his sons is so fierce it leaves him speechless.
McKay's female characters, though fascinating, are not as deep. Two different women in two scenes solve their domestic problems by taking cast-iron skillets to their husbands' skulls.
Fate figures so heavily in this novel, it makes Greek tragedy look like farce. So it's apt that McKay gives his characters names that foreshadow their destinies. Arvel is Welsh for "wept over;" Ziv is Old Slavic for "living one;" Ennis means "only choice" - a deliciously crafty way to toy with the idea of predestination.
McKay makes a point of asking lots of questions about choice. If Arvel had stuck with his first choice, I would be reviewing a novel called Twenty-Five.
The people are strongly drawn, and I appreciated McKay's take on Canadian identity. He explores one female character by placing her in Japan as an ESL instructor, where she slowly drops her polite Canadian persona in order to survive in a much more aggressive society.
Highly recommended for summer reading.
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