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Biography & Autobiography Personal Memoirs


Fathers, sons, a portrait

by (author) David Macfarlane

Doubleday Canada
Initial publish date
Apr 2023
Personal Memoirs, Death, Grief, Bereavement, Fatherhood
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    May 2021
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2023
    List Price

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When the worst that can happen, happens, the only useful lesson is the knowledge that it can. That's the take-away: a world can actually end, time can actually run out, sadness can prevail. But I didn't know that then . . .

From one of Canada's most celebrated writers and the author of the classic memoir The Danger Tree comes an occasionally hilarious, sometimes heart-breaking meditation on love, memory, and the fathomless depths of grief.

Likeness is a multi-generational story told through the vehicle of a painting, a portrait of Macfarlane by the well-known Canadian artist, John Hartman. The painting has ended up unexpectedly, temporarily, and enormously in Macfarlane's living room. He looks at it—a lot. It's hard to avoid.

To Macfarlane's surprise, the painting becomes a portal—not only into his own past, but into his father's, too. Through these two histories is woven the present—one dominated by illness. Macfarlane's son undergoes treatment for leukemia during the time the painting hangs in the family living room. Blake is a young man rich in creative possibility. There is music to be composed. There are films to be made. But Blake's future is as circumscribed by fate as his father's was wide open. A tragic difference, eloquently noted.

Likeness can be very funny. But it is also inescapably, achingly sad. A book of transcendent beauty, Likeness demonstrates the power of memory to transform the tragic into the precious and profound.

About the author

David Macfarlane is the author of the acclaimed family memoir of Newfoundland, The Danger Tree, which won the Canadian Authors Association Award for Non-Fiction in 1992. He began his career as a writer and editor with Weekend Magazine and has since been published in Saturday Night, Maclean's, Toronto Life, and Books in Canada. He is the recipient of eleven National Magazine Awards, the Sovereign Award for Magazine Journalism, an Author's Award for Magazine Writing, and a recent national newspaper award for his weekly column in The Globe and Mail. He has written and produced a documentary and won a Gemini for his television work. In 1999, Summer Gone was nominated for the Giller Prize and in 2000 it was the co-winner of the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award.

David Macfarlane's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"David Macfarlane's haunting new memoir Likeness . . . unfolds in a series of short musings, most of them only a few pages in length, which range freely over the span of decades, encompassing three lives. . . . Likeness is a book of considerable joy, and of staggering loss, one which avoids easy sentimentality in favour of genuine—and crushing—emotion." Toronto Star

"A gifted and admired writer across genres . . . Macfarlane's works have always focused on memory and family. That long-standing theme is understandably far more sorrowful in Likeness. Born out of the fatal illness of Macfarlane's 29-year-old son, Blake, in 2018, it conveys grief in heartbreaking, often quietly stunning, prose. . . . There is an ache in Likeness that cuts as deeply as it does because of the beauty of its expression." Maclean's

"Pleasing. . . . David Macfarlane['s] sense of craftsmanship is visible on every page." Literary Review of Canada

"Beautifully wrought. . . . [Macfarlane] displays creative boldness. . . . There are moments that strike deep, especially if the reader is a parent." —Everything Zoomer

"Likeness is a memoir by a very fine writer, perfectly crafted . . . a book about what it is that makes a family, a marriage, a life. It is about ageing and who we become over the years of our life. About what it is, for all of us, to be." —Parry Sound North Star

"As soon as you turn the first page into David Macfarlane's Likeness, you are gone, deep into the nest of his effortless story-telling, as the story moves from a painting to a town to a father to a son, from memory to grief and back again, indelibly mapping as it goes the uncountable but always surprising places and people and histories that make us not just who we are, but that make us each other. An unforgettable book." —Ian Brown, author of Sixty

"Likeness is terrific. It's about the before and after of losing a son, but the before and after happen simultaneously, that's the miracle of the book. David Macfarlane has found a new form made of shards and broken pieces, and it’s like music you’ve never heard before." —Elizabeth Hay, author of All Things Consoled

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