Alistair MacLeod: Essays on His Works


128 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 1-55071-137-7
DDC C813'.54





Edited by Irene Guilford
Reviewed by W.J. Keith

W.J. Keith is a retired professor of English at the University of Toronto and author A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada.


With 16 short stories and a novel, Alistair MacLeod’s must (with the
arguable exception of Sheila Watson’s) be the most substantial
reputation in Canadian literature based upon so small a body of work.
Yet it is not only work of considerable subtlety but unusually coherent
in its range, style, and tone. Hence it is by no means premature to
welcome this (appropriately slim) collection of critical studies of his

The book is framed by an extremely informative interview conducted by
Shelagh Rogers and a beautifully poised account by Douglas Gibson of the
gentle art of extricating manuscripts from evasive authors. In between
are five articles of literary criticism, perhaps the best being Jane
Urquhart’s sensitive discussion of As Birds Bring Forth the Sun
(1986), closely followed by an elegant study of the elegiac quality of
the fiction by Janice Kulyk Keefer.

Oddly enough, the longest essay, by David Williams, seemed to me the
least helpful, comprising as it does a good deal of historical and
social information that MacLeod has so transformed in his writings as to
make its presence almost supererogatory. Two other essays, by Karl
Jurgens and Colin Nicholson, attempt to bring MacLeod into the
postmodernist fold, though I would have thought that he demonstrates, on
the contrary, that the so-called postmodernist aspects are as old as the
Scottish hills. However, some interesting insights occur on the way.

The whole is efficiently and unostentatiously edited by Irene Guilford,
though I wish she had included a list of previously published material.
This is a worthy volume in the extremely timely and pleasantly produced
Writers Series recently initiated by Guernica Books, a publishing
project that deserves widespread praise and support.


“Alistair MacLeod: Essays on His Works,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 18, 2024,