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The Island Walkers [Paperback]

John Bemrose
2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 24 2004
John Bemrose’s highly acclaimed national bestseller tells the story of a family who slips from fortune’s favour in a southwestern Ontario mill town during the mid-1960s. Like his father before him, Alf Walker is a fixer in the local textile mill. When a labour dispute forces him to choose between loyalty to his friends and his own advancement, Alf’s actions inadvertently set in motion a series of events that will reverberate far into the future. Meanwhile, Alf’s wife, Margaret, must reconcile her middle-class upbringing with her blue-collar reality, as her marriage is undermined by forces she cannot name. And after their eldest son, Joe, falls headlong for a girl he first glimpses on a bridge, the boy finds his world overturned by the passion and uncertainty of young love. At once intimate and epic in scope, The Island Walkers follows the Walker family to the very bottom of their night, only to confirm, in the end, life’s regenerative power.

From the Hardcover edition.

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From Amazon

John Bemrose sets his debut novel, an epic family tale called The Island Walkers, in 1965 in fictional Attawan (based on Paris, Ontario), a small mill town where two rivers meet. The somnolence of the lovely town and the Walker family is about to be seriously disturbed. On a summer morning, 18-year-old Joe Walker is grudgingly helping his father Alf re-shingle their house when Malachi Doyle arrives. Doyle is an organizer trying to unionize the local textile mill where Alf works, and the changes that follow his appearance will soon overwhelm all: Alf, the all-too-human father; Margaret, the war-bride mother from England; Joe, struggling to enter the adult world; young diabetic Penny; and Jamie, who falls in with the wrong crowd.

Despite its shifting points of view, the writing is clear and sharp, like a figure standing on a roof silhouetted against the sky. Bemrose has a genuine talent for describing place: "as a breeze touched the trees across the river, showing the light undersides of their leaves like a woman's slip." But his primary skill, and the delight of the novel, lies in his ability to create credible characters. Basically a decent man doomed by circumstance, Alf stands at the heart of the novel's tragic world of change and loss. Other characters are equally well depicted: Joe, in love for the first time; beautiful, intelligent Anna, the object of his affections; the crusty and experienced Doyle; the ambiguous Bob Prince, a mill executive whose motives are difficult to measure. Although the slew of affairs and dramatic events occasionally threatens to slip into a Peyton Place-like soap, Bemrose manages a rich depiction of small-town tragedy. --Mark Frutkin --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Set in a Canadian mill town in the mid-1960s, this solemn, accomplished first novel charts the fate of mill worker Alf Walker and his family as the town teeters on the brink of great upheaval. In 1965, Bannerman's mills, the largest employer in Attawan, Ontario, are taken over by Intertex, a textile conglomerate with an eye for cost cutting. After the first round of layoffs, a union organizer comes to Attawan, attracting suspicion from both management and workers, many of whom remember the disastrous results of an ill-planned strike in 1949. Alf, reluctant to jeopardize his standing as heir apparent to the foreman's job, is particularly skeptical of the drive to unionize. However, when Alf's desire to please the new management leads to unintended consequences, he begins to reconsider his position. Meanwhile, Alf's son Joe, a studious teenager who plans to go to college, falls for Anna Macrimmon, a worldly new classmate whose father is an accountant at Intertex. At the other end of the social spectrum, Joe's younger brother, Jamie, befriends Billy Boileau, son of a poor half-Indian mother, prompting Jamie's mother, Margaret, to label the Boileaus "not our kind of people," and going so far as to ban the child from her home. Bemrose's rather studied, deliberate prose and self-conscious lyricism slow the pace at first, but as the novel gains momentum, its exploration of class and vivid sense of place give it weight and depth.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

2.7 out of 5 stars
2.7 out of 5 stars
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars LIfe is tough and then gets tougher May 5 2005
I read The Island Walker, on the recommendation of a work associate who has appreciated the same books as me. This one didn't cut it for me, however. Beautifully written, I'll give it that, and a strong and dramatic set of themes - very "book club". Without knowing anything except that it was a "really good book", I was filled with dread early on, as it seemed to be hauntingly like "A Fine Balance" - the foreboding tone just deepened. Like life, I guess, is the reason the book was hailed as being "epic" - challenge, tragedy, sorrow upon sorrow, some horrifi... but the joys were so fleeting and anxiety-ridden, they couldn't really be enjoyed by the characters ( and thus this reader). In desperation, I skimmed through part of it closer to the end to see if the resolution would give me some meaningful satisfaction, some sense of hope. Sigh.No such luck. So I read on... Life in tough times - but there are always tough times. The endurance, perhaps, is what my workmate found meaningful for her. For me , I simply endured the tragedy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Tries way too hard March 26 2006
I read this book based on the recommendation from Guy Vanderhague on the back cover. The first half I enjoyed, but the second half was a struggle for me to get through. There were too many one or two sentance quotes by a character followed by entire paragraphs on how "bitter" his tone of voice was, etc.
I certainly agree with the previous review in that Jamie's horrific experience seemed to have absolutely no relevance on the story and was almost completely ignored afterwards. ??
I would not recommend this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No Closure Sept. 4 2006
I found the book beautifully written with well developed characters. However, I found there were several disturbing sub plots that came to no conclusion whatsoever. I found myself wondering when the plot was going to bring me around to something hopeful. It never did. I appreciate that an author doesn't have to neatly wrap up all his plot lines but I didn't find anything hopeful or thought provoking after finishing the book.
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