Great Scot, Royal Canadian
The Stories of Alistair MacLeod
Alistair MacLeod (1936-2014) was a Canadian writer and professor of Scottish ancestry. Born in Saskatchewan, he returned to Nova Scotia as a child. He taught for many years and eventually retired from the University of Windsor. He was a painstakingly slow writer. One obituary referred to him a “novelist in no hurry.” And if you are looking for a thrilling, gripping “read,” this is not your man. If you are looking to experience a writer lulling you into a world that is both foreign and familiar, grabbing hold of your emotions, memories, and sense of place, MacLeod is a master. Once hold of you, he never lets go. He wrote one novel, No Greater Mischief, and a collection of short stories. Largely set in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, MacLeod’s stories follow the fortunes and failures of the friends and families that populate that piece of the Old World in the New. All of life is here, in this little place.
This quote, taken from an interview with MacLeod, demonstrates the hard realities of life as he wrote about them, but also the gift of life that the certainty of death bestows.
“When you grow up in a rural area, especially on a farm, which I did for a while, you become very accepting of death as just another part of the cycle, especially regarding the animals. You breed them, you often see them born, you care for them, and then you kill them and eat them. So you grow up, as some people say, very close to your food chain, and some of the animals in that food chain have almost become friends for a while, so I think that farming people have a rather non-sentimental view of death. I also believe that if you work with your body—like a farmer, a miner, a fisherman, or a logger—you’re always putting yourself at risk. Such people are always in danger of losing fingers or hands or breaking their legs or being killed. So growing up in such an environment, you could never be surprised by death, and it certainly wasn’t something that could be avoided.”