No Great Mischief
by Alistair MacLeod
Published by McClelland & Stewart
283 pages, 1999
An Overdue Debut
Reviewed by Sienna Powers
Alistair MacLeod is a writer's writer. Let me tell you what I mean by that. At the tender age of 63, No Great Mischief is MacLeod's debut novel: hardly a number you'd think would have the publishing world on the edge of its collective and considered seat.
"What's your mother's father's name?" And almost without fail, in the case of myself and my cousins, there would come a knowing look across the face of our questioners and they would say, in response to our answer, "Ah, you are the clann Chalum Ruaidh," meaning, "Ah, you are the children (or the family) of the red Calum." We would nod and accept this judgment, as the ice and snow dripped off our shin pads to form puddles on the linoleum floors.
The clann Chalum Ruaidh plays a large part in No Great Mischief. It gives a very tangible focus to the concepts of family and history as it lives through all of us: even if we don't speak Gaelic. We follow -- though through Alexander's voice, not necessarily chronologically -- the lives of Alexander and his twin sister. When their parents and one brother are lost crossing the ice when the twins are very young, Alexander and his sister go to live with their grandparents, while their older brothers end up living alone in a house that's been in the family for generations. Somewhat predictably, the elder brothers create a rough and ready life without much thought to the future, while the youngest two -- with their grandparents' careful doting -- grow to reach for their potentials. None of this -- parents lost to ice or children with careful care ripening more brightly -- is the point of the story, though it all plays a lovely part of the journey.
SIENNA POWERS is a transplanted Calgarian who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. She is a writer and conceptual artist.