Reviewed by Ruth Walker
This is a fine and haunting book of “family” set in Cape Breton Island. There is tragedy here, a long line of failures and half-starts. The rueful recognition of ‘almosts’ and ‘could have beens’ are familiar territory in Canadian books. And this clan is rich in all of the above.
I should have been depressed reading this book. Instead, I found myself occasionally laughing out loud (of course, I adore irony) and often puzzling how this gang of socially awkward and confused men could be so damn ineffectual about so much.
It was the writing that engaged me. The narrative is lovely and slow unwinding, not unlike Alistair McLeod’s style. Indeed, MacIntyre as much sings this lament as he writes it.
The book is not perfect. But it held me when some books by far more famous writers have drifted away from my interest. Simply put, The Long Stretch kept me close with a great sense of time, place and character. And that last is tough to do because these characters are almost uniformly unreliable, and none more so than the central narrator, Jack “Johnny” Gillis.
His is a tale told by a sober drunk that pokes at the secrets that no one will talk about. Flashback after flashback takes us deeper with each poke until we, too, confront the truth.
And here’s my biggest quibble. The final truth was not, of itself, quite enough to warrant the secrecy and lies that so many in this book cling to. Nonetheless, the ride there was so enjoyable that I forgive them all. And I suppose “huge family secrets” are a relative thing (no pun intended) — so often families hide “big secrets” that in other families, might be the big chuckle over Christmas dinner.
In sum, it’s a totally worthwhile read and a bit of a surprise coming from a television investigative reporter. But given the buzz his next book is now receiving, you might want to find The Long Stretch for yourself. Published by Stoddart (sigh!) in 2000, you’ll probably only find this on second-hand bookshelves or libraries (Stoddart is long-gone) but it’s worth the trip.