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Rockbound [Paperback]

Frank Parker Day
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 1 1989

To the harsh domain of Rockbound -- governed by the sternly righteous and rapacious Uriah Jung --comes the youthful David Jung to claim his small share of the island. Filled with dreamy optimism and a love for the unspoken promises of the night sky, David tries to find his way in a narrow, unforgiving, and controlled world. His conflicts are both internal and external, locking him in an unceasing struggle for survival; sometimes the sea is his enemy, sometimes his own rude behavior, sometimes his best friend Gershom Born, sometimes his secret love for the island teacher Mary Dauphiny; but always, inevitably, his Jung relatives and their manifold ambitions for money and power.

The balance of life on Rockbound is precarious and thus fiercely guarded by all who inhabit its lonely domain, but just as a sudden change in the direction of the wind can lead to certain peril at sea, so too can the sudden change in the direction of a man's heart lead to a danger altogether unknown.

Enormously evocative of the power, terror, and dramatic beauty of the Atlantic sea, and unrelenting in its portrait of back-breaking labour, cunning bitterness, and family strife, Rockbound is a story of many passions-love, pride, greed, and yearning -- all formed and buffeted on a small island by an unyielding wind and the rocky landscape of the human spirit.

Canada Reads 2005 Winner!

In a David and Goliath style battle to the finish, Rockbound by Frank Parker Day triumphed over Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood and was declared the 2005 Canada Reads winner. In a series of debates that aired on the CBC in February, panelist Donna Morrissey, author of Kit?s Law and Downhill Chance, passionately championed this 1928 novel about life and nature on the small maritime island of Rockbound. The victory has brought this Atlantic Province favourite back into the limelight and is receiving nationwide attention, appearing on several bestseller lists across the country.

After its initial publication, Rockbound remained in out of print status until 1973, when the University of Toronto Press acquired the rights to publish as part of their ?Literature of Canada Prose and Poetry in Reprint? series. It was reprinted with an introduction by Allan Bevan of Dalhousie University?s English Department.

In 1989, Gerald Hallowell, an editor with the University of Toronto Press, rescued Rockbound from the backlist of the UTP catalogue. The book was reprinted with an afterword by Gwendolyn Davies, Dean of Graduate Studies and Associate Vice-President (Research) at the University of New Brunswick.

UTP had been selling around 200 copies of the book per year, until Donna Morrissey selected it for the Canada Reads debates. Since then, UTP has sold over 35,000 copies and it has been reprinted three times!

The University of Toronto Press would like to thank Donna Morrissey for her superb defense of the book and all of the people at the CBC for their support and encouragement.

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Product Description


“Ho-Hummmmmm. This is Canadian writing at its most boring. Go to sleep. Wake up in a hundred years and it will be just as boring,” writes an “customer from Canada” reviewing Rockbound, by Frank Parker Day, in March 2005. How different that reaction is to the one that greeted the novel’s initial publication more than seventy-five years ago.
In an enthusiastic letter dated 27 October 1928, Archibald MacMechan congratulated Day for “bringing realism” to “the amateur stage of Canadian fiction.” Raymond Knister in a 1928 issue of Saturday Night, and J. D. Robins in The Canadian Forum, April 1929, both considered the story an “epic”. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Ironbound, a fishing village on an island off Nova Scotia’s South Shore that provides the basis for the book’s setting, compared Day to “Judas Iscariot when he betrayed his Master” for the money Rockbound was likely to earn its author. In a letter signed by the ‘Offended Citizens of Rockbound’ and published in February 1929 in two Nova Scotia newspapers, Ironbounders lambasted Day for portraying them as “ignorant, immoral and superstitious” and for misusing the hospitality that they had extended him: “Why Mr. Day put such a ridiculous book on the market, belittling the inhabitants of his native province, and those who befriended him, is beyond the power of our conception,” they wrote. This is hardly “Canadian writing at its most boring.” Either the “sour” review was written by a still-rankled descendent of Ironbound or “by someone bereft of imagination” as another customer suggests.
A classic tale built of human relationships and around human strengths and weaknesses, Rockbound is indeed a story that seduces the reader’s imagination. Told in a linear fashion that I found relaxing, even reassuring, Rockbound is reminiscent of novels by Austen, Hardy and Lawrence. Like them, and many of the other ‘classic’ British authors whose works Day would have taught as an English professor at the University of Bristol, the University of New Brunswick and at American colleges and universities during the early 1900s, Day envelopes the reader in an imagined cloak of rich regional details and well-delineated, vulnerable characters coping with physical challenges, and emotional and moral dilemmas. This intimate cloak, shared only by reader and author, has the capacity, rather rare these days, to muffle distracting noises and stop time, for a welcomed while at least.
Perhaps Donna Morrissey, author of Kit’s Law and Downhill Chance, sensed the story’s reassuring warmth too. Last year, she proposed and successfully defended the novel against, among others, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake for the 2005 CBC Canada Reads debates. Not that Day’s story is anywhere near as outlandish or disturbing as that of Atwood. On the contrary, Rockbound is the timeless tale of an intelligent, uneducated, penniless young orphan whose pride, work ethic, integrity and respect for the sea enable him to claim the house and territory that rightfully belong to him. Always “in the grip of Destiny ‘of some strange consequence yet hanging in the stars’ that he could not understand,” David Jung doggedly pursues the dream that he cannot clearly define until he has made a “garden” for himself on Barren Island. Renaming it Gershom Island “after two Gershoms,” the old lighthouse keeper and Young Gershom, David’s closest friend, he finally turns “toward the light, along the turfy path . . . a way of gold, full of flowers, not of this earth, but like to those which mediaeval painters adorned their foregrounds,” his child, “little Ralph,” sleeping in his arms and his virtuous wife Mary at his side.
True, if not boring, the book, so far, sounds precious, as do the names of Day’s characters, Casper, Christian, Old Anapest, Mary, and the antagonist Uriah. Also true, with the author’s frequent nods to the Devil both on land and sea, with his penchant for retelling the region’s ghost stories, and with the Chaucerian epigraphs he has chosen to introduce every chapter, literary critic Janice Kulyk Keefer cannot be blamed for attributing to Rockbound “the most fairy-tale of plots.” Not to worry though. The novel is far from formulaic.True, if not boring, the book, so far, sounds precious, as do the names of Day’s characters, Casper, Christian, Old Anapest, Mary, and the antagonist Uriah. Also true, with the author’s frequent nods to the Devil both on land and sea, with his penchant for retelling the region’s ghost stories, and with the Chaucerian epigraphs he has chosen to introduce every chapter, literary critic Janice Kulyk Keefer cannot be blamed for attributing to Rockbound “the most fairy-tale of plots.” Not to worry though. The novel is far from formulaic.
Primary among its strengths is the ‘sound’ of the words. By ‘sound’ I mean two things: first the local fishermen’s drawl that Day so deftly and consistently conveys in his dialogues. Gwendolyn Davies in her “Afterword” to the 1989 edition describes this dialect as “the distinctive flavour of the Lunenburg Dutch spoken along the South Shore of the province.” The book recalls the area’s heritage also for Morrissey. She comments that “the voice of Rockbound” is “one of the many things that intrigued” her about the book: “After reading the novel, I couldn’t imagine it any other way; the richness of the language, its uniqueness lends an authenticity to the story that would be sadly lost without it.” And, as Morrissey notes, after a few pages, understanding the dialect becomes effortless.
The second ‘sound’ feature of this book is the musicality of many of Day’s descriptive passages. A good example is this introduction of David as he rows his yellow dory, his only possession, to “make demands of Uriah, the rich king of Rockbound, who had wealth in boats and land, and lofts piled high with herring nets and tubs of trawl”:

“He was barefoot and clad only in a pair of ragged brown trousers and a faded blue buttonless shirt that fell open at the neck to reveal a bronzed and hairy chest. His hands that clutched the oars were calloused and split, and scarred with marks of salt-water boils and burns from running hand line or halliard. . . . He was not unhandsome and when he smiled the corners of his mouth twitched and drooped.”

Alliteration and rhythm here breathe life into the appearance and behaviour of the author’s protagonist as the young man begins his “voyage of destiny.”
Other notable stylistic traits include the way in which Day weaves into the thoughts of his characters his own ruminations on English literary ‘greats’ such as Shakespeare and Byron, on the craft of writing-when, for instance, David is learning to write the alphabet, he reflects: “The letters seemed to him fixed, unchanged from the beginning, inevitable.”-and on time and space. Moreover, Day is often simply funny. He puns on the word exercise and exorcise, for example, in the story about “dat Sanford ghos” that Young Gershom recounts for David between “soul-kindling” draughts of hot rum. By tapping into the reader’s awareness of the distinction between the two words, Day includes us in Gershom’s audience, thus teasing our suspension of disbelief in a light-hearted and memorable fashion.
Subsequent to the ‘rocky’ initial reception of Doubleday New York’s 1928 publication, Rockbound has had several publishing lives and was the catalyst for one theatrical production. In 1973, Douglas Lochhead included the novel in his “Literature in Canada, Poetry and Prose in Reprint” series, with an introduction by A. R. Bevan, published by the University of Toronto Press. An edition that came out in 1989, with the “Afterword” by Davies, was reprinted three times by UTP (in 1997, 2004 and 2005). However, apart from a 1958 article by Bevan in the The Dalhousie Review, and a successful 1998 theatrical adaptation by Susan Shillingford in Nelson, B.C., earlier publications of the novel have gone relatively unnoticed. Thanks in large part to Morrissey, this latest return of Day’s book, considered to be the best of his four novels, has finally received an overdue, and ultimately surprising, national welcome. Prior to the CBC debate, an average of 200 copies were bought each year. Since the debate, UTP has sold over 25,000 copies of Rockbound.
Michelle Ariss (Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada

From the Back Cover

When 18-year-old David Jung arrives on the windswept island of Rockbound to claim his modest inheritance, he has nothing but the rags on his back and a fisherman's determination to survive. Battling the unpredictable sea and steering his way between Rockbound's two warring clans, the friendless orphan gradually builds a life for himself. He marries and has a son, finds a soulmate in lighthouse keeper Gershom Born, and falls deeply (and secretly) in love with Mary, the island schoolteacher. But he does not reckon on the wicked cunning of his great-uncle, Uriah, self-proclaimed king of Rockbound and David's one true enemy.

First published in 1928, Frank Parker Day's deeply allusive novel evokes the terrifying power and breathtaking beauty of Canada's Atlantic coastline, where a shift in the wind — like a sudden change in a man's heart — can lead to certain peril. Shakespearean actor Richard Donat evokes the quiet majesty of this long-forgotten classic, imparting a rich resonance to the Nova Scotia dialect of Day's Rockbounders.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This is Canadian fiction at its best. Set in the early 1900's, prior to World War one, this book follows the life of David Jung; from his early Youth when he arrives on Rockbound Island to stake his claim though his struggles and strifes to become the uncrowned King of the Island.

Rockbound is a lonely place, beaten by storms, layered in fog, in constant winter weather. And it is the setting for Jung's struggles with the powerful North Atlantic, island politics, and family struggles. the conflicts are not just with the phyiscal world -- the horrible power of the ocean and its storms-- but also the internal strife.

What the book does best is cross the line between fiction and nonfiction. Yes this is fiction but there is truth here, and you can tell the author knows of what he writes about. The eternal struggle of man against both nature and society are beautifully protrayed here.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rockbound Sept. 20 2005
By A Customer
This book is a true hidden treasure. Ignore completely the sour review referring to it as "boring" (must have been written by someone berift of imagination), it is anything but - you will enjoy this book from beginning to end. It doesn't matter if you are a native Nova Scotian or not, you will not regret picking this up.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars vivid and enjoyable April 20 2005
By A Customer
Despite almost being scared off by the strange spelling/pronunciation in the dialogue, I really enjoyed this book from the very beginning. It is such a vivid portrayal of the harsh life in the early 20C Maritimes -- I put it down and just couldn't stop thinking about how cozy my life is! Even though I couldn't follow all the fishing descriptions and details (I am giving it to my Dad, a fisherman, for father's day) I think this is a great book, much better that many early Canadian ho-hum classics like Roughing it in the Bush. I would much rather have read this in Canadian Lit at university.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favourite Canadian novels ever June 2 2011
Rockbound by Frank Parker Day is a "rediscovered" novel from 1928. Reprinted only for the second time in 1973, yet not achieving widespread acclaim until 2005, this hidden gem took thus almost eight decades to capture the attention of Canada from coast to coast. When my library system singled out this novel as a "Rave and Fave" (a term we use for focussing attention on specific novels or works of nonfiction for a brief period, then introducing new titles) I was interested. Rockbound bills itself as "the classic novel of Nova Scotia's South Shore". Since my beloved is from Nova Scotia I always read something from down east before or after a trip I make with him to see the in-laws. I do this to get me in the maritime mood. Rockbound was my choice prior to our upcoming trip.

Not since "...And Ladies of the Club" have I read a novel that has given me such pleasure. I will be raving about Rockbound for months to come. Day captures the hard fishing life on a small Nova Scotia island with an accuracy that could only have been acquired from being there. Day was a native Nova Scotian and paid exquisite attention to the dialect of the fishermen of the South Shore. He reproduces the speech of the islanders and, unlike many phonetic dialectical transcriptions which I find difficult to read in print (but not a problem to read aloud), the Germanic-based dialect flows along without pulling me back to parse what it is that people are saying. For example, when David Jung, the protagonist, sails to Rockbound island, he asks his great-uncle Uriah to work with him on the fishing boats:

"An' what might ye be wantin'?" said the old man, the king of Rockbound.
"I wants fur to be yur sharesman," answered David.
"Us works here on Rockbound."
"I knows how to work.
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5.0 out of 5 stars REALITY OF THE MARITIMES June 28 2010
I read this book because it was recommended on CBC Radio, during Canada Reads, a few years ago. Those people who live in the maritimes will see that this is as realistic as it gets; those of you who don't and would like to know what life in a fishing village is like, this is the book. It is an extraordinary maritime fiction, based on an actual place and with descendents of the original characters still alive. (names had been changed for the book)

It wasn't until after I read the book that I read the inside cover to see that the book had been reprinted. The original publication date was in 1928.
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