Choyce’s 80-year-old protagonist charms

Choyce delivers an engaging, surprise-filled novel that is by turns raunchy, heart-warming and gut-wrenching. Though it does at times become melodramatic and even a bit over the top, one must remember that everything is being presented by John Alex, the consummate yarn-spinner.

The time is the 1980s and MacNeil, now 80 years old, is living the quiet life in rural Cape Breton. He misses his dead wife, Eva, and is often able to conjure her up to be there with him. MacNeil is regretful that he has no children, that he was once lured by money to work in the Quebec asbestos mines and that he had a serious falling-out with his brother, Lauchie.

Now he worries about growing old, whether his mind is going and if he will be able to keep his driver’s licence. “I usually pick up any hitchhiker that doesn’t look like either an axe murderer or Brian Mulroney,” he says, reflecting on “the mailbox incident.”

One day, to his door comes someone who will upset his tranquility. It’s 16-year-old Emily, who has been thrown out of her parents’ home because she is pregnant. He’s seen her in town but doesn’t know her. She tearfully explains her plight and that her boyfriend doesn’t want her because another fellow is responsible for her present state.

John Alex allows her to stay with him. She becomes, as he says, “a great companion, a friend and, in the most important way, she was family. Although I could never come out and explain it to her — or anyone — we were father and daughter but also mother and son.

“When I was weak, she was somehow strong. And added to that mix was the fact that I think I loved her but there was nothing sexual or physical about that. How was it that the language failed at coming up with some other word or category that explained what this was between us?”

As she settles in to wait out her term, helping with the chores and meals as best she can, the outside world begins to interfere.

Her parents want the legal authorities to take over. Her boyfriend keeps appearing. John Alex must call on a local clergyman and other friends for help.

At times, the situation seems to be growing intolerable, but the storytelling skills of Lesley Choyce and his loveable hero take everything to a most satisfying conclusion.

— Winnipeg Free Press, March 2017

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