Lesley Choyce has written a crazy number of books; over 80 for adults, teens, and children. I only own one that I deliberately bought a few years ago because I was anxious to read it. It is still unread. He also lives in Nova Scotia. All of this to say that I’m wondering what makes me finally pick up a book by a long-known author and read it.
Maybe the cover? The title? Good reviews? Or maybe a number of things conspiring together. In any case, I finally read one of Lesley Choyce’s books, and it won’t be my last.
The Unlikely Redemption of John Alexander MacNeil hooked me from the first page…
I guess the first time it occurred to me that I was really losing my mind was the day I stopped to pick up a hitchhiker and it turned out to be somebody’s mailbox.
In my own defence I’d have to say I wasn’t wearing my glasses and it was late in the day with the sun slanting into my eyes, but I was pretty damn sure it was a person standing there by the side of the road with his thumb hanging out, looking for a ride back to Inverary. I usually pick up any hitchhiker that doesn’t look like an axe murderer or Brian Mulroney.
John Alexander is a lonely old man who still sets the table for his long-dead wife. He’s been living this way for 30 years when his secluded world is rocked by a pregnant teen – Emily – who needs a place to stay.
I feel as if I had been living too long and could no longer bear the overwhelming combination of beauty and sadness that a human being was expected to endure.
Suddenly John Alex’s life is full of pregnancy and baby books. And company. Emily, of course, who has settled in nicely and is happy staying with John Alex. But there are others, too; Emily’s boyfriend who is passionate about saving the earth, Father Walenga who loves to watch Oprah, and Sheila the mobile librarian who has a stunning confession to make.
“John Alex, you are a good man. You’ve been outspoken and you’ve always lived your life without caring what anyone else thought of you. And that pisses the hell out of a lot of people.”
While all of this is taking place, John Alex believes he might be losing his mind. He tries to hold it together for the sake of Emily, but memories of the past continue to bubble up closer and closer to the surface and we slowly come to learn more about John Alex’s past and what he spends his time brooding about.
It turns out that John Alex needs Emily as much as she needs him.
I closed my eyes and tasted my childhood. Snow on an outstretched tongue, the silence of snow without wind. The possibility of winter without pain. The possibility of it all.
The Unlikely Redemption of John Alexander MacNeil hits on topics such as old age, loneliness, dementia, teen pregnancy, and even the idea of ghosts. This is a good book to read if you’re looking for the warm fuzzies, and a good addition to the list of heartwarming books like The Unlikely Pilgimage of Harold Fry, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, and The History of Love.
What’s your favourite heart-warmer?
Since we’re on the topic, a list of 31 heartwarming books at Buzzfeed.
Penny’s review at the Literary Hoarders: “John Alexander has left me in a puddle of tears and I have fallen madly in love with him. ”
Review at Atlantic Books Today: “John Alex has a very folksy voice but this is also a philosophical book pondering the many cycles of summer and winter, pregnancy and fertility, death and birth and past and present. ”
Lesley Choyce on The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers