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The Island Walkers Hardcover – September 13, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Set in a Canadian mill town in the mid-1960s, this solemn, accomplished first novel charts the fate of mill worker Alf Walker and his family as the town teeters on the brink of great upheaval. In 1965, Bannerman's mills, the largest employer in Attawan, Ontario, are taken over by Intertex, a textile conglomerate with an eye for cost cutting. After the first round of layoffs, a union organizer comes to Attawan, attracting suspicion from both management and workers, many of whom remember the disastrous results of an ill-planned strike in 1949. Alf, reluctant to jeopardize his standing as heir apparent to the foreman's job, is particularly skeptical of the drive to unionize. However, when Alf's desire to please the new management leads to unintended consequences, he begins to reconsider his position. Meanwhile, Alf's son Joe, a studious teenager who plans to go to college, falls for Anna Macrimmon, a worldly new classmate whose father is an accountant at Intertex. At the other end of the social spectrum, Joe's younger brother, Jamie, befriends Billy Boileau, son of a poor half-Indian mother, prompting Jamie's mother, Margaret, to label the Boileaus "not our kind of people," and going so far as to ban the child from her home. Bemrose's rather studied, deliberate prose and self-conscious lyricism slow the pace at first, but as the novel gains momentum, its exploration of class and vivid sense of place give it weight and depth.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
The Walker family lives in the Island, a small neighborhood of working-class homes along a bend in the Attawan River of Ontario. Like the Island's other residents, Alf Walker has worked at the Bannerman's textile mill since he returned from World War II with his English wife, Margaret. Bannerman's seems like a fortress for the Island, unchanging and implacable, until the news comes that a Quebec-based firm has purchased the mill. Firings quickly follow, a union organizer arrives, and the remaining workers scramble to choose sides in a bid to keep their livelihoods. For Alf's sensitive son Joe, who is working toward a college scholarship, change comes to the Island in the shape of the beautiful and enigmatic Anna, a troubled girl far beyond her classmates in both imagination and experience. Bemrose writes with quiet power, unflinchingly depicting the painful aftershocks that occur when the forces of modernity collide with the forces of custom. This is an astonishing debut, a big and breathtaking family novel that is both understated and passionate. Meredith Parets
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
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So The Island Walkers has a solid place in the competition for Great Canadian Novel of Unremitting Horror. But the wonderful writing and the multiple, tense plot lines won't let you put the d**n thing down. I'm not about to start in summarizing the plot - you can get that anywhere - but if you enjoy fine writing, complex stories, multiple plot lines, and can stand the tension of absolutely everything going from bad to worse, you'll almost certainly spend a good week plowing through this novel, anxiously hoping that things won't turn out as badly as you expect.
Four stars. I read it in hardcover, not Kindle.
I'm going to purchase and review his 2009 novel, the Last Woman, which I missed completely when it came out.
Most of the book is about this but also about his family. His son Joe wants to go to college and is in love with a girl (Anne) who is into poetry. In his mind, she is better than him. Anne is with Brad so she asked Joe to ask her friend Liz out so they can double date. It gets complicated in a high school kind of way. There is also his wife Margaret, his son Jamie who is 8, and his 10 year old daughter Penny.
I think the union story grabbed my attention since I worked at a factory in Detroit when the Teamsters hustled their way in. We too had to vote yes or no to letting them in. Well, I ended up being in Teamster's local 299, Jimmy Hoffa's old union. I still have the card. Being a union member has it's good and bad points. The process of the union coming in was an interesting time, I'll say that.
He tracks the lives of a dozen or more characters. Too many to really do justice to them all, and it is hard to disagree with critics who fault the story on this count. But all are so worthy of exploration that I cannot say who should go. Similarly, the gorgeous writing at times slowed the flow (there is quite a lot of good tension and narrative suspense to keep one turning the pages), but I enjoyed almost all of it. If anything I wish he'd expanded the stories of at least a half-dozen characters.
The first tragedy to strike Jamie I could have done without; so many fiction writers have woven this in to their stories that it's almost hackneyed. This unique story did not need it.
The ending felt a bit rushed, in contrast to the slower build-up to smaller critical events earlier. But I simply wished the story would not end, so no conclusion could leave me feeling that all had been told, that it was 'enough'.