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The Island Walkers

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Author John Bemrose
ISBN 9780719566707
Pages 448
Condition Good
Format Paperback

A stunning debut novel of power and grace that tells the story of a family that slips from fortune's favour in a southwestern Ontario mill town during the mid-1960s Within a bend in the Attawan River lies the Island, a small neighbourhood of white-washed houses and vine-freighted fences, black willows and decaying sheds. It is here that Alf Walker, a fixer in the local textile mill like his father before him, lives with his family. It is 1965, and when a large corporation takes over the mill, and workers attempt to unionize, Alf's actions inadvertently set in motion a series of events that will reverberate far into the future and burden him with an unspoken shame. This is also the year when his eldest son, Joe, falls headlong for a girl he first glimpses on a bridge - and his world is overturned by the passion and uncertainty of young love. The bittersweet story of Joe and Anna is juxtaposed against his father's deepening role in the tensions building at the mill and his unsettling connection with a local Native woman, Lucille Boileau. Meanwhile, Alf's wife, Margaret, must reconcile her middle-class English upbringing with her blue-collar reality, as her marriage is undermined by forces she cannot name. Set over the course of a single year, the novel reaches back to the past - to Alf's haunting memories of the Second World War and his brother's death; to the stories of the town's founder, Abraham Shade, and those of the eccentric river man Johnny North. Bemrose weaves an intricate, absolutely spellbinding narrative. Besides the five members of the Walker family, he introduces a large cast of characters, including Archie Mann, Joe's sad and inspired teacher; Liz McVey, the wilful daughter of the town's richest man; union organizer Malachi Doyle; and Anna Macrimmon, worldly, gifted, mysterious, who turns Joe's world upside down. In The Island Walkers, Bemrose creates a world entire that immediately draws us in. His portrait of the town of Attawan and of the community of people who inhabit it is magnificently drawn, alive with detailed, evocative descriptions. The sense of place, the characters themselves, their conflicts and deepest longings, we cannot help but recognize as our own. Dark, intensely moving, and beautifully imagined, this remarkable debut follows one family to the very bottom of their night, only to confirm, in the end, life's regenerative power. Richly textured, at once intimate and epic in scope, The Island Walkers signals the emergence of a new novelist of vision and rare accomplishment.
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