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Island: The Complete Stories [Paperback]

Alistair MacLeod
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 28 2011
The sixteen exquisitely crafted stories in Island prove Alistair MacLeod to be a master. Quietly, precisely, he has created a body of work that is among the greatest to appear in English in the last fifty years. A book-besotted patriarch releases his only son from the obligations of the sea. A father provokes his young son to violence when he reluctantly sells the family horse. A passionate girl who grows up on a nearly deserted island turns into an ever-wistful woman when her one true love is felled by a logging accident. A dying young man listens to his grandmother play the old Gaelic songs on her ancient violin as they both fend off the inevitable. The events that propel MacLeod's stories convince us of the importance of tradition, the beauty of the landscape, and the necessity of memory.

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From Amazon

Island collects into a single volume the superbly crafted stories of Alistair MacLeod. In addition to their original appearances in North America's finest literary journals (and various reprints in Best American Stories and other prestigious anthologies), all but two of the attentive, meditative stories filled the previous books The Lost Salt Gift of Blood (1976) and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun (1986). These two books were enough to gain MacLeod the admiration of readers in numerous languages and writers as diverse as Michael Ondaatje, Joyce Carol Oates, and Colm Tóibín.

With unseen, magician's fingers, MacLeod makes the craggy rocks and wave-slapped bays of rugged Cape Breton Island speak for themselves. As in "The Boat," in which the very walls of a house and the fixtures of a boat find voice and carry the story, the stories in Island sing in a choir of voices not exclusively human. Dogs, the lamps of isolated lighthouses, winding roads, and slabs of winter ice sing together in voices both regional and universal. The sternness of the landscape and the livelihoods of MacLeod's people inflect both the actions of his characters and the voice of their narration. In the tragic "As Birds Bring Forth the Sun," a "man with a Highland name who lived beside the sea" nurses an injured dog despite the protests of "the more practical members of his family, who had seen run-over dogs before, [who] suggested that her neck be broken by his strong hands or that he grasp her by the hind legs and swing her head against a rock." These are timeless, ageless stories not only because they will last alongside the similarly dense and striking stories of Chekhov or Carver, but also because in reading them we are ageless, simultaneously child, young lover, and aged hand. --Darryl Whetter --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

One of Canada's most important writers, MacLeod grew up in Cape Breton. Here he presents a powerful collection of short stories set on Canada's Eastern shore, where the traditions and Gaelic language of transplanted Scots continue in a harsh new world. All of these affecting, elegiac tales focus on the strong ties of loving kin, particularly the link between fathers and sons. Fathers share the experience of work with their sons, and boys puzzle over family events and tragedies and learn to be men in the close-knit communities. Sadly, as times change, fathers lose their sons, who become educated men and leave the land and sea for professions in the city. MacLeod's characters are deeply touching and memorable, and their simple lives are rich with loyalty and affection for their families and way of life. The sumptuous language, which immerses the reader in this stunning but unrelenting land, begs to be read aloud. A very special collection; recommended for all public libraries.DCathleen A. Towey, Port Washington P.L., NY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars TALENTED, DEFINITELY -- BUT NOT MY CUP OF TEA... Aug. 20 2001
Fans of Alistair MacLeod, please understand -- I respect his writing abilities, but this book disappointed me. Perhaps it's too much in the vein of what little I've read of Hemingway and London -- but it just didn't hold me like I anticipated...and yes, I read it all the way through.
There were some stories I liked more than others -- but for the most part, I found them to be uninvolving. His descriptive talents are immense, and his feeling for his subjects and their setting -- Canada's beautiful but harsh Cape Breton Island, for the most part -- is obviously deep and heartfelt. Perhaps his characters and his storylines are just a little too rough-hewn for me, I can't really put my finger on it.
I'm glad I read this book -- I had heard a lot about MacLeod's work in the last year or so -- and I won't go so far as to recommend that others NOT read him. As I said, his talents are genuine and obvious, and others might enjoy these stories more than I did. By all means, if you enjoy reading the work of a craftsman, don't ignore this man's writing.
I've read collections of short stories in the past year that I enjoyed more -- by Russell Banks, John Biguenet, Adria Bernardi, and (my favorite) William Trevor.
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5.0 out of 5 stars READ Feb. 22 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Alistair MacLeod is one of Canada's best writers- 'nuff said. Set in Cape Breton, it gives an insight into the culture and mysteries of the region.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Stories Aug. 28 2001
I found the stories in Alistair MacLeod's Island to be beautifully moving--some incredibly powerful, others merely just very good. These are contemplative stories and because they all deal with similar underlying topics (but altogether different stories)--the return to the rural, the countryside's slow adaptation to change, youth contrasted with age--it makes sense to read these stories slowly, over several weeks. I believe reading these quickly may cause them to blend together, something you don't want to do because each story has its unique original beauty. MacLeod writes very carefully and his prose is very, I don't know, almost heavy, very powerful. You have to be in a contemplative mood, I believe, to appreciate these stories. This is not a collection for that cross country plane ride, or your week at the beach. Rather, these are stories to be savored slowly, in peace and quiet. Well done.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not my cup of tea either Nov. 19 2010
I would have to agree with a previous reviewer who said that while he appreciates the works of such a talent as Alistair MacLeod, this book is just not my cup of tea and I don't really know why it's not. It could be that I just don't like short stories. I don't feel a connection with the characters as it takes time for character development...likely why I prefer a novel. I did read his novel "No Great Mischief" before reading this collection and loved it. I assumed I would love everything he wrote but I guess I was wrong. It was ok but not nearly as good in my opinion as his novel. So if you don't care for this collection of short stories, don't let that turn you against the writings of Alistair MacLeod. As I said previously, his novel was wonderful.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Vanishing Way of Life March 18 2002
By A Customer
Alistair MacLeod writes of isolation and loneliness and loss. His characters are often solitary people, yet they are solitary people with a strong sense of both history and community...the community of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
MacLeod's characters are a dying breed, people we don't see many of these days: coal miners, fishermen, farmers, lighthouse keepers. They are a people held together by a strong Gaelic thread; they speak Gaelic, sing Gaelic songs and live lives upheld and reinforced by strong Gaelic traditions. They are a rural people and they very much prefer things to stay the way they have been.
But, as we all know, things never stay the way they have been. MacLeod's rural characters are the older ones. The younger ones have left the lonely farms of Cape Breton to work and study in the cities. The tourists are moving in, and, finding the Cape Breton landscape "unspoiled," and, therefore, very much to their liking, they are spoiling and defiling it, taking the first steps toward turning it into the very thing from which they wish to escape.
In "Island," MacLeod, writes mainly of the modern, city-wise, young people who come home to visit the dying world from which they wanted to escape. What they find is a world and a culture that will not die, that refuses to be obliterated. "The Closing Down of Summer" is a story that illustrates this persistence of the past perfectly.
MacLeod is at his best in this collection of stories. His prose is emotional but never maudlin, precise but never terse and it possesses a rhythm so Gaelic it can't fail to strike a chord of recognition in anyone who is in the least bit familiar with Cape Breton and its inhabitants.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Magnificent Work Jan. 1 2002
By Steve R
MacLeod's stories evoke a sense of place better than most living writers. He does not rend his characters with relentless descriptions of their appearance (in fact, in some of the stories, the characters have no names and we are given little or no hint of what they look like); rather, they seem to emerge from the very landscape the author describes. They are coal miners, fishermen, lighthouse keepers and their wives and children, living in a part of the world that is alternately gorgeous and ferocious. MacLeod recognizes that this is all we need to know of them to understand their lives. What is even more impressive than MacLeod's elegant, understated style is the fact that the stories in Island were published over the course of 30 years, from the late '60s to 1999. Yet the author's voice and the quality of his craftsmanship are so masterful, the span of time between the stories is virtually indiscernible. This is what makes literature classic.
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