________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 21 . . . . June 8, 2007


Tuckahoe Slidebottle.

Neil McKinnon.
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 2006.
222 pp., pbk., $18.95.
ISBN 978-1-897235-07-2.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by J. Lynn Fraser.

**** /4

Small town prairie life has inspired writers for generations. As For Me and My House, Sinclair Ross’s 1941 depiction of small town prairie life, illustrated the insular lives of a couple as they coped with disappointment and the social restrictions of their lives. Neil McKinnon’s novel also deals with small town prairie life. His Tuckahoe citizenry are just as restricted by prejudice, poverty, violence, and ignorance, but his multidimensional characterizations show individuals who respond to adversity with humanity, generally, and, when they do not, McKinnon reveals an understanding of the short comings of human nature.

     Voice is key to the author’s characterization. There are, for example, small town, soap box, philosophers:

Blind Clarence roused himself from his perch on Louie’s window ledge. Clearly the situation begged for learned commentary. “A wise man said we’re all a dream in the mind of God, but he looks more like a nightmare in the brain of an idiot,” he pronounced.

     And there are lovers who court each other through poetry:

She turned to him and he to her.

“The grey sea, and the long black land;

And yellow half-moon large and low;”

he said. “And a voice less loud, through its joys and fears,

Than the two hearts beating each to each!”

she replied.

     The novel’s chapters are discrete vignettes that describe pivotal moments in the lives of different characters. While the young reader may not like all the characters the novel depicts, he or she will be treated to the author’s keen observational skills, ear for dialogue, as well as the poetry of his writing:

We were not always like this. Our relationship was like a curtain in an open window. It would blow into many different shapes, but when the breeze stopped it always fell back to what it was---and at one time, it was warm and beautiful.

     McKinnon’s novel is useful for the classroom in many respects. For the social studies student, norms, values, concepts of deviancy, authority and normality, community values, role models, and the position of the church and the rights of the individual in community life are all examined by McKinnon. The English student will find characters that reveal themselves through their language, and it is McKinnon’s use of language which makes the novel such an enjoyable read. His similes and metaphors are creative, such as when he likens the red hair of a boy to a “nervous campfire.” Students will see the possibilities of language come alive in this book. 

     In contrast to Ross’s novel suggestions of sexuality and violence, McKinnon’s characters are often placed in very adult situations in which sexuality and violence feature prominently. For this reason, the novel is recommended for mature young readers.

Highly Recommended.

Located in Toronto, ON, J. Lynn Fraser is a freelance writer and editor whose magazine articles appear in national and international publications.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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