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Fiction Small Town & Rural


by (author) Leo McKay Jr.

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Mar 2004
Small Town & Rural, Literary, Multiple Timelines
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2004
    List Price

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By The Acclaimed Author Of Like This,
A Finalist For The Giller Prize
Leo McKay Jr.’s bestselling novel is set in a small Nova Scotia town, where a family is changed forever after a devastating mining accident claims the lives of twenty-six men. As the story shifts back and forth in time and between characters, we meet the men and women of the Burrows family: brothers Ziv and Arvel, drawn to the mine for different reasons; their father, a former union organizer; Ziv’s ex-girlfriend, now living in Japan; and Arvel’s wife, who hopes for a better life for herself in the city. In the aftermath of the explosion, and as the investigation into its causes unfolds, the members of the Burrows family are forced to confront each other – and themselves – bringing the novel to its moving and redemptive conclusion. Written in spare, hard-hitting prose, and inspired in part by the Westray mining disaster, Twenty-Six is a novel of universal human struggle and understanding that evokes in all its drama and pathos a community transformed by tragedy.

About the author

Leo McKay Jr.'s best known book is the novel Twenty-Six, which Canada Reads named one of the forty most important Canadian books of the first decade of the century. It won the Dartmouth Book Award and was chosen for the One Book Nova Scotia event. His debut collection of stories, Like This, also won the Dartmouth Book Award, and was a finalist for the Giller Prize. He lives in Mi'kma'ki, the unceded, ancestral home of the Mi'kmaw people, where he has been a high school teacher for almost thirty years.

Leo McKay Jr.'s profile page

Excerpt: Twenty-Six (by (author) Leo McKay Jr.)

Death hides its face in winter, when trees are impossible to distinguish. The bony hands of branches clutch at the sky, waiting for the sun to rise high enough to warm them back to life. With so many elms sick, and some of them dying now, the only thing was to wait for spring before you put your hope anywhere.

Spring was a far-off place to Ziv as he stood in his parents’ driveway, his hot breath rising in clouds into the dark air above him. He looked up at the grey branches of the pair of elms that marked the boundary of his parents’ property and could not recall whether they’d been dead last summer or merely sick.

He put a mittened hand on the rear fender of his father’s car to steady himself as he stared at the translucent blind pulled down over the living-room window. “I hope the bastard’s dead,” he said out loud to no one. He was trying to detect movement inside the house, but he was good and drunk, and it was difficult to detect anything in his condition. He saw nothing but filtered light through the blind. All three bulbs in the pole lamp beside the couch were switched on; he could tell that. The tv was flicking the room light, then dark. But if there was any movement inside, he could not see it. The smell of furnace oil from the nearby tank hung in a thick layer over the more subdued smells of a cold winter night.

He took off his mitts, stuffed them into the pockets of his parka, and unzipped his fly in the biting February cold. “Shit,” he said as he pissed onto the snow. When he was finished, he zipped himself up again, put the mitts back on, and went unsteadily back to the end of the driveway to continue his aimless walk. It was now one thirty in the morning and it had been more than an hour since his last drink. Still, he was too drunk to go inside. He hated being drunk now. He hated himself for having got so drunk that he could not show his face inside his house. It was his parents’ house, actually, and he hated that, too. Five years ago he could have called it his house. But he was twenty-three years old now, he’d be twenty-four in a few months, and he could not bring himself to call it his house when he was paying room and board. He’d lived in this house his whole life. He’d been brought here directly from the Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow a few days after his birth, and except for a short time at university in the early eighties, he’d been here, a permanent resident of this address, ever since.

He walked to the corner of Hudson Street and looked down the channel the sidewalk plough had made. He’d passed through here several times already tonight, wandering around and around the neighbourhood, wishing for himself to sober up, or for the light to go off in the living room, the signal that his father had gone to bed, so he could go inside without setting off a row. His legs felt wobbly and weak. He was drunk, he was tired, he was hungry.

The neighbourhood he was walking through was called the Red Row, a half-dozen or so blocks of duplexes built by the Acadia Coal Company in the first decades of the century. The Red Row had originally housed miners who worked in the many pits that had pocked the landscape of Pictou County, Nova Scotia. Although the original pits had long been closed, a few elderly retired miners and descendants of those deceased still lingered in the company houses at the north end of the little town called Albion Mines. This is what Ziv was: a descendant of coal miners. And he was acutely aware of it. Even drunk, when the list of what he was aware of dwindled to a dozen or so items, being the descendant of coal miners was on that small list. He only had to raise his eyes and look at the company houses all around him to understand how completely submersed he was in that murky history.

Editorial Reviews

“Universal in its scope.… The novel is about memory, loss, guilt, and the light of redemption – sometimes, but not always, before it is too late.”
–Alistair MacLeod

“Remarkable.… Beautifully written.… Clarity is the miracle that chugs away at the heart of Twenty-Six. McKay –David Macfarlane, Globe and Mail

“Swift, honest, unsentimental storytelling and characters, both real and imagined, vivid enough to rise above their hard, often tragic lives.… [A] moving, well-crafted novel.…”
“[A] knockout debut novel bound for classic status. Twenty-Six resonates with style, lyricism and compassion.… An impressive work of fiction that pulsates with imaginative life.… It can be placed alongside Each Man’s Son, Mercy Among the Children, Fall on Your Knees and No Great Mischief. It’s that good.”
–Kitchener-Waterloo Record

“A cleanly crafted, richly evocative portrait of a community of families.… Leo McKay Jr. has created an entire world so skilfully that it’s jarring when the book ends, when one is reminded that these are merely characters, no matter how human they seem.”
Vancouver Sun
“Just as David Adams Richards has made the Miramichi district of New Brunswick his own literary turf, so has McKay laid claim to Nova Scotia’s Pictou County.… Twenty-Six is an enjoyable novel full of pulsating life, crisp dialogue and clear observations that you want to consider long after you’ve read the last page.”
Winnipeg Free Press
“Sparse yet powerful prose, sharply etched characters, a riveting story with a catastrophic tragedy about to befall; these make for a compelling novel.… It’s a stunning debut, showing a deft touch with language and an ability to depict human frailty.…”
Hamilton Spectator
“A compelling account of lives shattered and lives redeemed by disaster.… An unforgettable story of one family’s anguish and survival.”
–Halifax Chronicle-Herald
“[Twenty-Six is] brilliant in the way it constantly exposes the rawness of lives lived in a world where those who should give a damn – those in positions of power – simply
don’t.… Engrossing.…”
Edmonton Journal
“Brilliant.… Twenty-Six is a beautiful book.…”
–St. John’s Telegram

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