CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Nowlan, Alden.

Fredericton (N.B.), Goose Lane Editions. 1988. 171pp, paper, ISBN 0-86492-079-2 (cloth) $22.95. 0-86492-083-0 (paper) $12.95. CIP

Grades 11 and up
Reviewed by Katheryn Braughton

Volume 16 Number 6
1988 November

This, the first novel Nowlan wrote, is as powerful as any of his later works; it is of particular interest to those who have encountered Various Persons Named Kevin O'Brien (Clark Irwin, 1973), since the two novels share the same protagonist.

In this story, Kevin is still in public school in rural Nova Scotia, enduring the taunts and rough-housing of the older boys. Their cruelty is fuelled by their perception that he may escape what is inevitable for them—a life in the local lumber mill. Mary, Kevin's young mother, knows that he is intelligent and is meant for a different life but she cannot protect him from grinding poverty or the temper of his brutish father, Judd.

In Nowlan's skilled hands, the mill becomes a living monster eating up logs and the strength of both men and oxen as they labour mindlessly until they become "living corpses." Undergirding it all is Grandmother O'Brien's lament of acceptance—"We're poor as dirt and allus will be"--putting into words the fear that Kevin cannot escape the fate of generations of his family.

This novel is definitely not juvenilia (although early in Nowlan's writing career) but a mature work heralding the poetic voice that is Nowlan's claim to an enduring place in the annals of Canadian literature. Adolescent readers respond with delight to Nowlan's poetry; they will also respond to this fine, insightful novel.

Katheryn Braughton, Thornhill, Ont.
line indexes


1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


The materials in this archive are copyright © The Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission Copyright information for reviewers

Young Canada Works