In this chapter of Alexander’s Margaree trilogy, a small-town man reaches for his global aspirations in post-Depression Canada.
Growing up in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, in the 1940s and ’50s, narrator Laura MacNeil spends a great deal of time with Danny MacDonald. Having met when they were both 8 years old, the two become fast friends, and Laura marvels at Danny’s rebellious streak; he frequently rebuffs any sort of authority. As they grow up, Laura and Danny flow in and out of romance, flirting with the notion but never quite getting there. Despite this, though, they stay in touch after Laura becomes a nurse working in Boston and Danny wanders to find his place in the world. At first, he sets off to join the seminary, but his issues with authority soon get the best of him, and his frequent questioning of church doctrine gets Danny disallowed from his priestly ambitions. Though he realizes he just wants to help people, he can’t figure out how to make it happen. Working through these problems, he makes his way through Canada and its labor unions and finally to Africa, where he hopes to assist the starving communities by developing fishing cooperatives. As Laura recounts Danny’s struggle to change the world, it becomes apparent that he had what it took all along. Laura’s nostalgia-tinged narration works well for the novel. Seeing Danny through her eyes transforms the work from a story about a hometown boy into a tale of a man who became almost a legend in his small town. Though the story has potential, the main plotline never really gets off the ground, with the buildup being a bit too great, all in preparation for a less-than-inspiring conclusion. The pacing is stilted, with Danny realizing his life’s goal, finding it and losing it in rapid succession. A livelier, nimbler storyline (especially during the civil rights–era scenes) would lend more heft and meaning to Danny’s struggle to assert himself. The mostly well-written prose can be a little verbose, and perhaps another round of editing would help present Danny’s battles in a clearer light.
A stop-start look at a man who wants to save the world.