Tuesday, December 15, 2015

As Birds Bring Forth The Sun and Other Stories

I was so excited when I received a copy of Alistair MacLeod's As Birds Bring Forth The Sun and Other Stories. Years ago, I read the title story, in a collection of Canadian stories, From Ink Lake and was just captured by the beautiful writing. The words brought to life the Cape Breton landscape. When the collection containing this amazing story was offered to me, I had to take it. I'm going to say a few sentences about each story as I read them, though they all deserve so much more.

The Closing Down of Summer is a sad tale.  It is beautifully written, but my heart breaks a little for the narrator, who seems trapped in his life.  I wish they could escape and do so much more.

Winter Dog is a beautiful story, but again, a sad one. It was a timely story too, as the story began with the first snowfall before Christmas. It's a reminiscence; the  narrator looks at his children playing and at the dog that visits from across the street and he is reminded if a dog who looked similar, who saved him, but was not long for the world. The memory is strong, but somehow hidden.

To Everything There Is A Season is another beautiful story taking place at Christmas. It is sad to think if crossing the threshold to the adult side of Christmas, but is has to happen eventually. It is also sad to return home, though warmly welcomed, to see something once thought steady, has changed.  I lived this story. So much emotion in just a few pages.  

Second Spring is an interesting story. It's about growing up, I think. There's a thorough description of butchering, which was...strong. There was a lot about farm life, things I didn't know. But mostly it was about the narrator, from seventh to eighth grade and how much can change in a short amount of time. 

Why do all these stories have to be so sad?!?!

The Tuning of Perfection was heartbreaking in just a few pages. I loved Archibald. I felt for him, for his losses and how his family seemed to slip away from him. This story speaks to lost heritage and to desires. Maybe the best story of the collection thus far. 

As Birds Bring Forth The Sun is a haunting and tragic take. Maybe even stronger on this second reading.  Is is another sad tale from Mr. MacLeod. The first time I thought it was sad and mysterious. I found myself wondering about the dog. This time, I'm not wondering so much about the dog, but what spectre might be following this family, real or imagined. I'm wondering about family legends and how long they last. I also see different things in the story when it is in the context of this collection. The Gaelic, the loss and family. Now that I've read it again, I think this might be the best story in the collection, the one that can connect them all. 

Vision has many levels. It is about literal visions as in "the second sight". I really liked and felt for the narrator, retelling a tale of his father. It was deeply sad, maybe the sadest tale of all. It was not seeing what was in front of you.  It was blindness, the narrator's father and the old woman with cats. Vision is a story I feel like I will have to read again.

There's a lot of Gaelic in MacLeod's collection of short stories. It is a part of everyone. You can tell that it was something he grew up with and had a deep impact on his life. Each of these stories is piece or slice of their particular narrator's life, and it is a piece that has had a deep impact. Jane Urquhart writes the afterward in this edition. You can tell by the way Urquhart talks about the stories, how much she enjoys them and MacLeod. She has a deep appreciation for the stories, their emotion and their "universal" themes "told though intimate moments". Do I agree with Urquhart that the themes are universal? Migration, family, love, loss? Yes, I suppose I do, though when I read the stories, I didn't think that way. Instead, I appreciated the beauty of the writing and the sadness of the tales. It's definitely a collection I can see myself coming back to in a few years. 

I feel lucky that As Birds Bring Forth The Sun and Other Stories and MacLeod's other collection, The Lost Salt Gift of Blood came to me. Both collections were eventualy published together as Island, but I'm glad I have them seperately. I wonder if the themes or feelings of the other stories will be different. For right now though, I'll allow myself to ponder the lives of Alistair MacLeod's amazing characters.

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