Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Toronto: Globe and Mail Review of The Survivor

With flaming cinders dropping from the sky and trees all around him exploding into fireballs, James Alford seems doomed to death by incineration in a forest fire. But we know, as we do in all good action films and books, that Alford is going to survive. After all, the book is called The Survivor and we’re only on Page 3. The story itself is part two of the Alford Saga – a number of future parts will span a family history of 200 years – so we need to keep young Alford around to sire the progeny.

But a profusion of challenges to his physical strength and mental sharpness will test his ability to survive. If you like your Canadian history fast and furious, a crisis on every page, you will enjoy this film-on-paper by television director Paul Almond. The genre is young adult/history, or maybe light cottage action reading. No car chases, though, because we’re in the year 1813. The fastest vehicle around is a horse-drawn sulky, the two-wheeled device we are most familiar with at racetracks.
It is owned by Billy Brotherton, a relatively affluent lout to whom the love of James’s life, Catherine Garrett, is betrothed by arrangement. James has nothing, except for a shack in the woods and a patch of land that, if cleared of trees, will someday yield a farm. That is, if he ever gets around to registering it before someone else does.
The Alford Saga develops on the south shore of the Gaspé Peninsula in the early 1800s, where author Paul Almond’s family endured its own pioneering adventures. Almond, who has produced or directed more than 130 Canadian films and television dramas, lives in the Gaspé and Malibu, Calif. Although he depicts the frozen winters of the Gaspé in frost-gripped detail, it is a safe guess that he spends his winters in California.
Alford actually begins his saga as Thomas Manning, but he deserts the British Navy and adopts a new persona to avoid arrest and death by a thousand lashes. The fair Catherine helps him avoid capture and then pines away at home waiting for his return, while he runs off into the bush, marries a Micmac Indian named Magwés, who dies in childbirth while providing him with a son. He thinks he will never love another, until he encounters Catherine again. Are we complicating this story too much?
Catherine is of a pure heart. She confides to James that all men have only one idea. “Just one single thought, all of them, and one I do not relish.” James catches her drift, for he is a lusty young man, and she becomes all the more desirable. But – remember Billy with the sulky? He also confides to James that he can hardly wait to marry Catherine. “She’ll give me the ride o’ me life, I bet. And I don’t mean in the sulky. She’ll be a real wild one when I get her under me blankets.”
The flaming cinders, metaphorically speaking, are falling from the skies all around. James must rescue beautiful Catherine from a charmless marriage, whisk her back into the woods to his tiny rough shack, where he had sired his native son and about whom he hasn’t yet, um, gotten around to telling her.
The story is entertaining and heart-throbbish, but author Almond does the unforgivable. He hangs a musket over the mantle for all to see, glances at it occasionally, but never gets around to using it. It’s a red herring that never gets eaten. Alford’s precious piece of Eden is unregistered, Billy Brotherton has the motivation and the means – his father is a land-hungry justice of the peace – to steal it away legally, and challenge James once more. But Billy Brotherton doesn’t bother to, and rides his sulky off into the deep forests of the Gaspé, never to be seen again. At least, not in this book.
Perhaps Almond is saving him for a more dastardly deed in the future.
Orland French is a writer and publisher of history books through his company, Wallbridge House Publishing of Belleville, Ont.. His latest book, The Remarkable Journey of Maurice Rollins, is a biography of the entrepreneur who developed the Journey’s End motel chain.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Gaspe: Launch of The Survivor at Fort Haldimand

Dennis Drainville, the Bishop of Quebec, introduces Paul again in 
this fundraiser for the churches of the Greater Gaspe.
Paul speaks about his third book to come, The Pioneer, due out in October — 
wholly appropriate for these Pioneer Day Celebrations.
The Bishop and his wife, Cynthia Patterson, a power behind Pioneer Days, 
enjoy one of Paul’s jokes.
 Paul with Weston White, one of the main organizers of “Pioneer Days”.
Paul with Elaine Coull, who took orders for the books, and very efficiently made 
sure everyone received their copies, and after the event, had to order many 
more in response to a large demand. She works with Viarail, Paul and Joan’s 
favourite method of transport in Canada.

Many Gaspesians wanted Paul to sign their book, The Survivor — surviving 
being precisely what their ancestors did here in the Gaspe two hundred years ago.

Paul with Debbie Dee, a genealogist and loyal Gaspesian, who has returned 
from Ottawa, as indeed so many Gaspesians do nowadays.

Paul and Cynthia.

These book signings are only made successes by the fine volunteers.

Here is Perce Rock, seen from Barachois, where Cynthia Patterson and the
Bishop live.