by Frank MacDonald – $19.95
Frank MacDonald writes about what he knows – the people, community and politics of small town Cape Breton. This novel starts with a death and winds its way through 60 years of history into the kind of tangle that occurs when old resentments and fears come face-to-face with present-day differences around environmental preservation and economic development.
Mrs. Big Sandy (and her husband Big Sandy) are central characters, even though Big Sandy dies at the beginning of the book. Big Sandy’s funeral filled the church and the front page of the local paper, ‘The Shean Witness’. Father Eddie Walker’s eulogy skirted the facts of Big Sandy’s life to dwell upon the historic significance of his passing which centres around what will happen to the family home and the land on which it sits.
Another key character is David Cameron who is the current Editor of the town’s newspaper. Cameron had recently returned to Cape Breton with his wife, Alexandra, and children, Tony and Mary, for a summer vacation from his job with a Toronto newspaper. He decided to make his life in his hometown of Shean, wanting his children to have a childhood in the small community. Alexandra, his wife, returned to Toronto to her job, planning to have the children visit during vacations.
Add to the list of important characters a young woman, Rita MacDonald, who recently left her dream job as a cruise ship nurse to come home to Shean to look after her father, Ronald MacDonald after he had a stroke.
David begins to hear unsettling bits of gossip around the town mostly at The Gulf Grill where the local people gather for coffee and lunches. He and Rita uncover devious plans by unknown business people and government workers for the expropriation and destruction of Mrs. Big Sandy’s house, the building of a seawall and plans to begin strip mining for coal.
When all this is exposed to the towns’ people in ‘The Witness’, the townspeople become divided, some wanting new construction and jobs and some wanting to maintain the town as it is. Old grievances imagined or real come to the surface but a crisis of a house fire – which sends David’s children to Hospital, helps new friendships develop and long held feelings of wrongdoing and resentment heal.
This novel is a great yarn and, while fiction, sounds very familiar to some of the current issues many small towns are facing when development is pitted against environmental protection.