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|A Hard Old Love Amongst Scavengers Reviews|
Atlantic Books Today, February 24, 2017
David Doucette’s episodic novel, A Hard Old Love Amongst Scavengers, is a writers’ novel and a fine example of what a talented author can do with material – or at least settings – often a bit worn thin around here.
The narrator, Miles MacPherson, in his mid 40s, has built a house on a mountain overlooking the sea. He’s perpetually building it, perpetually cursing his dwindling credit line, perpetually watching visitors struggle to climb the steep driveway (most choose to park on the road). Miles has travelled, had his share of adventures and now he just wants to look out over the sea, commune with nature and play his fiddle and guitar. People hear him from afar, hear his songs drifting down.
Doesn’t at all sound like a book I’d want to read.
But there’s more to this story than meets the plot, for there really isn’t much of one. At least not traditionally. Doucette doesn’t want to create a comfortable story. Miles has had a hard, traumatic life, though for most of the book we know little of this trauma (which, for the reader’s sake, I will not reveal). But when we do learn of the trauma – an overseas (Miles sometimes teaches ESL) event that would make the national news were it to happen – the book gains extra resonance.
Many writers would have led with the trauma or made it the central point of the novel, but Doucette wants to focus on the after effect, on how Miles tries to find solace in what’s around him. There’s a side-story of his lost gold glasses, of Charlie the Red Fox, of two crows, a baby moose, a high pile of red books. His recollection of his first night camping on the mountain (as a boy) is terrific (and hilarious), as is his aborted Cabot Trail hike with a Labradorian park ranger. Throughout Miles gives voice to nature, talks to (and for) animals, barely maintaining sanity, perhaps. Friends come and go and Miles forges through.
All stories, minor or major, are given equal billing to the trauma.
Why? Because that’s what life is like. A short-term event changes one’s life, yet the days are still 24 hours long, the nights still require sleep, time still needs passage. A person lives with trauma.
Style-wise, Doucette never strays from his strict narrative approach. His Joycean prose always evokes, never feels false or clichéd. It’s immediate, as when describing a coyote attack (he’s on a hillside in a snowstorm with a broken leg!), or an awkward man caught up in a nightmarish Mabou square dance. There’s no reader hand holding, no easy explanations, no softening of violence. Dialogue often requires a second scan, but then you get it.
I can imagine publisher after publisher turning the book down, requesting something happier, more saleable, with more dancing. The ending, perhaps purposefully, nudges toward this, noses in for a happy killing … I mean ending.
It doesn’t happen.
Well, not in Miles MacPherson’s world. Not like you’d expect.
A highly recommended, challenging, rewarding and moving work by an under-appreciated Canadian author.
— Lee Thompson, Atlantic Books Today
The Victoria Standard, November 22, 2017
One Adventure Per Chapter
A Hard Old Love Amongst Scavengers: A Novel
Going deep into the heart of what it means to be a loner, David Doucette’s newest novel is a superb portrait of the ambivalent nature of solitude.
Readers with loner tendencies can breathe a sigh of relief as this author unveils the stumbling emotions, crazy deep love of nature, and quiet sense of accomplishment his main character experiences at each small triumph over challenges, or mere endurance of what he cannot change. More sociable readers will discover some of the strength, confusion, and patience of people who don’t find it easy to be “out there” in the world of human interaction.
Episodically, this is one adventure per chapter—some small, some big, all realistic. (Maybe the coyote incident is more realism than we want in our woods-wandering minds!) Nature looms large, as Miles MacPherson’s self-built home sits high on a Cape Smokey cliff, and all manner of weather and beasts move through his life. His interactions with moose, squirrels, crows, coyotes, and an endearing red fox he names Charlie are anything but starry-eyed. Miles’s reactions to animals and humans alike are driven by a hunt for the best in each creature, with a proper sense of caution and distance.
The neighbours within range come off rather well in the tug of war between curiosity, irritation, and compassion that is inevitably engendered by the presence of one of their own who has traveled the world, challenged the too-tight bonds of community, and kept them off balance with his incapacity to be “normal.” Doucette’s writing is sympathetic to these tensions, and it’s a delight that he does NOT fall back on an easy portrayal of bullying and ostracism that some writers might imagine. Dave Doucette knows his people.
Doucette’s writing is not always the shortest route between two periods. And he is often poorly served by his editors. But his quirks of phrase are important, subtly communicating humour, fear, relief, uncertainty, and a sharp understanding of human relationship. There is love here, and courage, and despair—all of it at just the level we can recognize in our own lives.
Tempered by his Ingonish upbringing and his experiences in some of the farthest reaches of our world, Dave Doucette’s novels—see also North of Smokey and Strong at the Broken Places—excel at portraying the tension between individual privacy and the web of connection in rural living.
Read this book, and feel your heart crack open to the roots of difference, and to the amazing flexibility we can all dredge up in our attempts to live in community.
— Bonnie Thompson, The Victoria Standard, Baddeck, NS