The Island Walkers

by John Bemrose
ISBN: 0771011113

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The Island Walkers
by W.P. Kinsella

It has been some time since I've read a novel, especially a long one, that I wished would not end. Here we have an old-fashioned novel with plot, and a story filled with highly developed and sympathetic characters. Alf Walker is a struggling working man who is unwillingly pulled into a series of events concerning the establishment of a union at the knitting mill in Southern Ontario where he works. The story is told from a number of points-of-view, but Alf and his son Joe, who is about to graduate from high school, are the main characters. Joe is madly in love with Anna, the new girl in town, daughter of the mill's accountant. He fits in well with the town's wealthy citizens and intends to go on to university to study history. The jacket copy tell us that this is "the story of a family that slips from fortune's favor." So an overriding sense of foreboding permeates the novel.
This work is as compelling as recent novels by Richard Russo, the chronicler of the lives of the American working class, and is also a reminder of the working class novels of Joyce Carol Oates. There is a strong sense of place. The fictional town of Attawan is the real Paris, Ontario. As Alf is continually forced to choose between his friends who are establishing the union, and offers from management to have him join them, while his wife demands that he put his family's financial wellbeing first, he finds himself in an impossible situation. This is a great reading experience, and Bemrose, a long-time columnist for Maclean's and the Globe and Mail, has now become a fiction writer to watch.

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