Book Report: "The Island Walkers" By John Bemrose

634 words - 3 pages

It is 1965 in the small Ontario town of Attawan. Bannerman's mills, the largest employer in Attawan, Ontario, are taken over by Intertex, a textile conglomerate with an eye for cost cutting. After the first round of layoffs, a union organizer comes to Attawan, attracting suspicion from both management and workers, many of whom remember the disastrous results of an ill-planned strike in 1949. Alf, reluctant to jeopardize his standing as heir apparent to the foreman's job, is particularly skeptical of the drive to unionize. However, when Alf's desire to please the new management leads to unintended consequences, he begins to reconsider his position. Alf Walker then becomes a hidden well of silent shame over his actions. Alf's worries are aggravated by his wife, Margaret, who has never reconciled her middle-class English upbringing ...view middle of the document...

The youngest son Jamie learns of mysteries and nightmares both imagined and real as he must deal alone with the tensions of class conflict and the terrors of sexual abuse. Jamie befriends Billy Boileau, son of a poor half-Indian mother, prompting Jamie's mother, Margaret, to label the Boileaus "not our kind of people," and going so far as to ban the child from her home.The Island Walkers (the 'Island' in the title refers to the area of town the Walkers dwell in) is very much a novel of place, both of a physical nature and of a individual's place in society. Bemrose has an exceptional appreciation for the nature of a small town and its citizenry, mistrust of strangers and the urgent fear of the world beyond the city limits.Attawan, based in part on Bemrose's childhood in Paris, Ontario, is indisputably the central character, an evolving and possibly dying creature of hidden beauty. It is a place that exists in the finest literary tradition. The framework of small-town class warfare weaves itself throughout the narrative, the understanding that everyone has their place.Despite the overwhelming quality of Bemrose's tale, deficiencies are present in his handling of his female characters. Margaret and Penny are given short shrift, functioning far more as objects to react against than as full-fledged participants in the Walker saga. While the Walker males undergo significant change and growth throughout, Margaret and especially Penny, while each accorded some measure of story time, remain lesser subjects to revelation.Nevertheless, there is such an abundance of virtue in The Island Walkers that it is impossible to not be swept along the family's path of hardship, humour, horror and resignation. Bemrose does not avoid showing harsh realities in their raw nature. The Island Walkers is a near-perfect rendition of those moments in time when everything changes, and the world will never be the same.

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