Book Review

Class and clash in the Miramichi

A review of
An Expectation of Home By Larry Lynch
Gaspereau Press, 2002 $21.95
ISBN 1.894031.61.X

A YOUNG MAN from Miramichi, New Brunswick, Bernard Jolicoeur, who is struggling with parenthood and a failing marriage, reflects upon his childhood and the course of events that brought him to the present stage in his life.

Larry Lynch writes in a vivid, social realist style which draws the reader into the lives of his characters who represent authentic human beings. He explores the relationships amongst various social classes, between men and women, and between the youth and society. Without an apparent agenda, other than to launch his writing career with this first novel, he helps the reader to better understand Canadian and Miramichi River society which in recent years, especially its famed salmon fishery, has been the subject of a number of literary works by David Adams Richards and Herb Curtis, amongst others.

We can find in An Expectation of Home a portrayal of the working class of Acadian and Irish origin both in terms of its strengths (energy, resourcefulness, mutual support and creativity), and in terms of the things that plague it: drug and alcohol abuse, ignorance, disunity and a host of external pressures emanating from anti-human, anti-working class social and cultural trends. There is the example of the Gordons, the rural working class family whose older female members seem to be the only bond that keeps the family together. While the father works at such pursuits as fishing and logging, his drinking causes him to loose work; his acts of senseless violence are harmful to his family and a menace to his neighbours. After the accidental deaths of the parents, the children turn to the drug culture and move in with relatives or onto the welfare roles. One of the children, Calvin, is a tragic character who becomes a demented drug addict, an object of pity and speculation amongst the town's people.

In contrast, the central character, Bernard Jolicoeur, and a friend, Hughie, leave home to go 'down the road' to study pulp and paper technology in Sault St. Marie, Ontario. Bern's father, however, is the local doctor, originally from Montreal, while his mother's family is from the local working class. Bern's Uncle Roy is the local school bus driver, a bachelor who lives alone in a trailer by the river. Hughie's father is a unionized worker in the local pulp mill. Miramichi prospers in the fictional world of the novel, largely because of the pulp and paper industry, yet Lynch, himself employed by one of the companies for a decade or more, makes no reference to the workers' struggles which are decisive in improving wages, working conditions, benefits and job security. And Hughie's family have prospered, with those neat, clean, well-built houses with big garages and all the necessities of the modern Canadian standard of life. An interesting comment compares fathers, Bern's and Hughie's, when they are studying technology in Sault St. Marie. Bern characterizes his own father as cold and distant even though Bern only has to ask for money and he gets it. No questions asked. But when Hughie asks for money, his father shows far more concern about how he is doing.

This contrast is also seen in Bern's unfortunate relationship with Joy Gordon and Hughie's happy marriage to Cindy. Dr. Jolicoeur's family has its problems. Bern's older sister Grace becomes pregnant in her teens and is sent away to exile in Montreal. The only positive outcome of Bern and Joy's relationship is their son Owen. Uncle Roy has his problems with alcohol and looses his job. Yet the pulp and paper workers are the source of the good life in Miramichi, and that industry and its producers are the bright spot in Lynch's novel. To the extent that this book has a recognizable message it would be that this industry represents all that is best in the region.

Mr Lynch's engaging and well-structured novel, filled with unexpected developments, insights and details about life in the Miramichi, is also another beautifully typeset, bound and printed work from the literary craftspeople of Gaspereau Press.

*Charles Spurr, a home care worker, is part of the shunpiking magazine collective

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