CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Kevin Major.
New York, NY: Delacorte Press, 1984.
154pp., cloth, $14.95.
ISBN 0-385-29347-X. Distributed by Doubleday Canada. CIP.

Subject Headings:
Newfoundland and Labrador-Fiction.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up

Reviewed by Gudrun Sight.

Volume 13 Number 2
1985 March

Kevin Major, who has two award-winning adolescent novels, Hold Fast ¹ and Far from Shore ², already to his credit, again demonstrates his talent for realistic portrayal of young people growing up in Newfoundland in Thirty-six Exposures.

To relate the experiences of camera buff Lorne, a very private, self conscious youth in his last two months of high school, Major adopts an original approach. He depicts Lorne's progress toward self-assertion in thirty-six concise chapters that are the verbal equivalent of sharply-focused snapshots. The author departs from the first person narration, employed in his earlier books, in favour of the third person, central-character point of view. By restricting the reader's information to what Lorne can experience, the author permits the reader to draw his own inferences. The slight distancing effected by this viewpoint helps the writer to treat several explicit sexual episodes with restraint and good taste.

The setting, a small fishing community, is uniquely Newfoundland, settled by Europeans centuries before most of North America was even discovered. The reader catches a glimpse of outport hospitality: mummers, step dancing, and a lobster supper on the beach. Technological developments, such as a new fish plant, a paved road, and offshore drilling rigs, are changing the old lifestyle, yet failing to provide adequate employment. The impact of modernization on traditional Newfoundland values confronts Lorne and his classmates with problems familiar to any Canadian community: lack of understanding between parents and children, peer pressure, experimentation with liquor, drugs, and sex, and an uncertain economic future.

The range of adolescent responses to these problems is typified by Lorne and four of his classmates. There is thoughtful and compassionate Elaine, who plans to work with young children, perhaps as a primary teacher. Adhering to the traditional morals, she declines drinking and sexual activity, and yet is no prude. Her opposite, Gwen, actively seeks casual sex. In the middle is Barbara, who has not yet decided on her goals but knows she wants to do too many things to end up like Shirley, the pregnant bride, who settles for marriage to a wild youth given to excesses of drink and dope. Reckless Trevor devotes more time to liquor, sex, experimentation with drugs, and tearing around in his decrepit car than attending to schoolwork. He foresees a bleak future, he may be lucky to get enough seasonal work to qualify for unemployment insurance. He dismisses the prospect with a gesture of bravado:

"Aw, fuck it," he said, "I still got the car. There's still a few good laughs yet."

Lorne is a complex character, a good student with a passion for photography and writing poetry. His parents do not understand him but try to give him everything. He is uncomfortably aware that his peers cannot have these expensive possessions. Initially shy, he gains self-confidence as the plot unfolds. He proposes that his group try a different form for their history project - a photo-history of their community, augmented by interviews of older citizens.

When Mr. Ryan, the autocratic history teacher, suspends Trevor for making a flippant remark about the Armistice, Lorne feels the punishment is too severe. In spite of warnings that he is jeopardizing his final mark, he leads a student protest to have his classmate reinstated. Consequently he becomes friendly with Trevor, who draws him into uncharacteristically wild behaviour: drunkenness, a sexual experience with Gwen, and culminating their graduation celebrations, a daring climb to the top of a water tower, where Trevor spray paints the question "Graduated, eh?" for all the world to contemplate.

These exploits abruptly end in tragedy when the brakes fail on Trevor's speeding car. It crashes into a winch at the end of the wharf. Lorne tries desperately, but fails, to pull his friend out of the sinking car. The shock of Trevor's death brings Lorne closer to his parents and to Elaine, but the story ends with Lorne setting out on his long planned trip to France, while he decides what he really wants to do with his life.

In this unforgettable picture of growing up in Newfoundland, the characters are individual and convincing, and the pace well sustained. The topical theme and the setting give the story enough depth to interest adults as well as young people. Indeed, the book is a marvellous achievement, saying so much in so little space, yet superbly crafted into effortless reading. Some parents may object to several scenes of explicit sex, and to Trevor's rough language, but the story is an honest portrayal of the adolescent scene. Young people will find the book relevant, and reluctant readers will appreciate the readable style and short chapters. The book is well bound, and the print easy to read.

Gudrun Sight, Faculty of Education. University of Calgary, Calgary, AB.

¹ Reviewed vol. Vl/4 1978, p.217.
² Reviewed vol. IX/2 1981, p.93.

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