Below, there is also the Ordinary, and MacLeod is superb at combining the splendor and grandeur of the natural world (the ocean, the sky and all that) with everyday life on the land. The fact that these qualities coexist, though seemingly at odds, and so comfortably, is what makes these stories outstanding for me.
Not only in the structural sense, that sentences expand to include a remarkable number of clauses and phrases (when you hear MacLeod read, other people’s shorter sentences sound pale, even rude!), so there are many ‘ands’. Also, in the sense that there is room for contradictions—say, room for conflicting emotions to inhabit the same moment.
There’s an open door with Alistair MacLeod’s stories leading to this part of Nova Scotia, which could serve as an introduction to Atlantic Canadian literature (though, of course, no single author could suffice). Search online to glimpse artworks that capture the rocks and trees, the waves and horizon: simple and grand, all at once.
There is an unmistakeable quality to MacLeod’s style, quickly evident and naturally sustained. In the film, even simple sentences—like “Before I was a writer, I always wanted to be Elvis Presley”—demonstrate his cadence. But beyond his personal delivery, there’s a rhythm to the telling of the tales themselves, an archetypal pull.
It was tempting to choose Love or Longing, Loss or Life for the ‘L’, but choosing any one of those seemed wrong, because they’re all caught up in a snarl in these stories. What strikes me more than any single one of these, however, is the attempt to grasp the intangible, the desire to hold the ocean in one’s palm, even knowing it’s impossible.
Men work in the mines and women bake bread; these are stories with universal and lofty themes, but they are also filled with rubber boots and darned socks, with squabbling siblings and long drives. There is a focus on the quotidian and I can imagine many a high school student rolling their eyes, at the pace of this quiet.
Russell Banks speaks of MacLeod’s process and explains that he composed stories deliberately and methodically, word after word, sentence after sentence, all in his mind, before putting them to paper; he does not revise. A longtime professor, MacLeod honed his craft and dedicated many hours to teaching others as well.