I heard of the passing of Alistair MacLeod as we were driving home from Georgia last week. As a Canadian lit student, I had read his short stories in The Lost Salt Gift of Blood; most likely it was my first exposure to “Atlantic” Canadian fiction. I have to confess that I didn’t really “get” his acclaimed novel, No Great Mischief, or at least not in the way everybody else seemed to, although I’ve always meant to go back and read it again, – I must’ve missed something. But the point is, despite having published very little by way of books (two short story collections and a novel), he was a much beloved literary giant in Canada. I heard a few interviews replayed on CBC radio this week, in which he sounded humble, wise and funny. He liked to think of himself as telling his stories, rather than writing them, and he liked to write about things that not only interested him, but also worried him. I can’t imagine writing every word with a ballpoint pen; I read somewhere that the first story he ever published, “The Boat,” was also the first story he ever wrote – imagine!
I was intrigued by his description of his rustic writing cabin overlooking the ocean near Inverness (and envious), but I couldn’t find any images of it on line – except possibly this one, which doesn’t reveal much:
Like most writers, he enjoyed his solitude – in his Acknowledgements for the novel, he thanks Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers in Scotland for giving him a place “to be at peace in decent ease.”
I was also interested in learn that, like John Irving, he wrote the final sentence long before a piece was finished, in order to give himself something to write toward. I wonder if he had any idea how often the last, simple but profound, sentence of No Great Mischief would be mentioned following his death.
“All of us are better when we’re loved.”