Scotch River.


329 pages
ISBN 978-0-670-06543-9
DDC C813'.6





Reviewed by Matt Hartman

Matt Hartman is a freelance editor and cataloguer, running Hartman Cataloguing, Editing and Indexing Services.


Very early in Linda Little’s second novel, a letter is delivered to bull rider Cass Hutt at the Alberta ranch where he is working. Accompanying the handwritten letter is a deed to a piece of land in Scotch River, Nova Scotia. Because Cass is functionally illiterate, he is unable to read the letter. It is not until the book’s conclusion that Cass finds someone to read it to him, and discovers that his mother (who wrote the letter) had deserted him soon after his birth. What the letter doesn’t confirm for Cass, he is able to figure out for himself. Between this beginning and this end, Little has fashioned a wonderfully sensitive novel that has garnered three Atlantic Book Awards, including the $10,000 Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Prize. The story’s motif is family and the relationships it incorporates: love and hate, protection and desertion, inclusion and exclusion. Cass is not the only one in the novel to wrestle with these dichotomies. The idea of family affects others as well, exposing their lies, mutilating them emotionally or physically.

Little has the writing skills needed to take a scene or an event and invest it with both humanism and portent. While Cass struggles with his memories, Pipe, his half-sister, struggles with hers; she paints the walls and ceilings of her home with what she remembers, what she is trying to recapture. Eleanor, the matriarch, also fights for understanding and solidity as Cass’s sudden appearance in Scotch River threatens to deconstruct her carefully ordered world: “Eleanor repeatedly found herself kneeling in her garden perfectly still,” Little writes. “Thinking about him, about anything connected with him, about all that was connected with him, immobilized her…. She would come to, blinking at the tactile world, embarrassed and afraid, adrift in a pool of frighteningly polished moments.” There is a rhythm to the writing and a strength to the imagery that is remarkable. Little’s first novel, Strong Hollow, was shortlisted for the awards she now has won. It is clear that more honours lie ahead.


Little, Linda., “Scotch River.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 27, 2024,