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The Unlikely Redemption Of John Alexander MacNeil by Lesley Choyce


80-year-old John Alexander MacNeil lives alone in rural Cape Breton.

His sharp-tongue made him unpopular with both the clergy and the politicians. But that's who he is. For as long as he could remember, he'd been waging war against someone or something --no matter the size for when he was nine, he took on the Catholic church's archdiocese. But in his defence, he also admires feisty determination in others in whatever form it takes as long as (as he puts it) it doesn't harm children, harm the environment or infringe on a neighbour's property. 

His wife Eva died of asbestos in her lungs. The same asbestos that came from the asbestos mines he worked in at St. Simone, Quebec...a job he took on, ironically, to provide a better life for Eva. She never asked for a better life. She was happy with their life just the way it was. But John Alexander MacNeil just wanted to do more for the love of his life, and give her all the things he thought she deserved. 

Now although Eva's been dead for thirty years, John Alexander MacNeil still talks and cooks breakfast for her. 

Some days he's as sharp as a tack, while on others pulling up the zipper on his pants feels like it requires tremendous intellectual effort. The mind sure loves to play tricks on you when you show the signs of age, doesn't it? 


He's not ready to admit it to anyone yet, but when he mistakes a neighbour's mailbox for a hitchhiker, a small part of him starts to question his own sanity. But he's not about to give into it yet.


Then Emily, a pregnant teenager shows up at his home with no place to go. John Alexander MacNeil realizes he must step up and do everything in his power to protect her. Keeping his sanity in check (somewhat), he embarks on a journey of discovery and action. 


I love the conversations in this book, as I did the insights, the relationships, and the writing. Lesley Choice has a knack for transporting us into the life of rural Cape Breton, where the biggest challenges are not embroiled in the meaningless materialism that many of us deem important, such as which Kate Spade bag you should match with your Toms shoes? 


The John Alexander MacNeil's character is beautifully juxtaposed against the younger Emily, who is a smart cookie on her own, but still possesses the innocence of a teenager. She's looking for someone to provide guidance, and a stable place to live so that she can have her child. She gravitates towards John Alexander MacNeil and trusts him to help her keep some sanity. She doesn't have the stability in her own life. After all, Emily's mom wants to send her daughter off to Halifax, so that she can have the child there and eventually give it up for adoption. 

The other characters that weave in and out of the story, also add to the story's authenticity, and this slice-of-life narrative, is one that many readers who love great CanLit writers will appreciate.

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The Unlikely Redemption Of John Alexander MacNeil is published by Roseway Publishing, an imprint of Fernwood Publishing

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