Alistair MacLeod, Island: The Complete Stories (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000), 434 pages, no illustrations.
MacLeod is a master at providing great depth within a short period of time. In "The Vastness of the Dark," a story that takes place on the day of a boy's 18th birthday, we learn of his father's and grandfather's history as miners in the coal veins that are playing out on Cape Brenton. The story is set in the late 1950s. He has decided to leave home and he recalls with detail how his day begins. Before leaving the island, he stops to tell his grandparents goodbye and we pick up more of the family history. His father had also left the island, but had come back to take his grandfather's place in the mine (which has since closed). In a way, his setting out is the same as his father's. He hitches a ride with a salesman, betraying his home as he says he's heading home to Vancouver. The salesman brags of "getting lucky" in the mining towns where there are a large number of widows. Instead of exciting the boy with the possibility of a sexual encounter, he finds himself repulsed. He recalls a trip with his father and grandfather who went to help the miners trapped underground and from collecting coins in school for the families who lost their father. His disgust rises as he realizes this man could be hitting on his own mother. Leaving the salesman behind, he is picked up with a group of guys heading back to a uranium mining job in Ontario. Realizing that they, too, are from Cape Breton, he drops his story of being from Vancouver and admits that he is also from the Cape. This long story all takes place on one day, his 18th birthday.
These are stories to be cherished. MacLeod beautifully captures the lure of his homeland. When his characters leave the Maritimes for jobs in the West, the reader feels their pain as they travel the long highways toward Toronto. I recommend this book.