The Unlikely Redemption of John Alexander MacNeil by Lesley Choyce

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 likeย The Unlikely Pilgimage of Harold Fry,ย The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, and The History of Love.

What’s your favourite heart-warmer?


Further Reading:

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 The Miramichi Reader

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

33 thoughts on “The Unlikely Redemption of John Alexander MacNeil by Lesley Choyce

    • James says:

      There are some “crazy old man/recluse” aspects of his character, and it looks like dementia is looming ahead for him if he doesn’t find a more purpose-driven life.

  1. annelogan17 says:

    ‘lovely’ seems like the perfect way to describe this. And I must admit, the first sentence is absolutely hilarious! For that reason alone I’d read this book.

    • Naomi says:

      That’s what I thought when I opened the book to read the first page – I was trying to decide whether or not to take it back to the library. The first paragraph won me over – I just couldn’t take it back until I had read it. (I have a fear of returning unread books and then forgetting to take them back out again.)

  2. James says:

    I was amused to see you liked the book as much as I did Naomi. I suppose it could be considered a “heartwarming” story, but it’s no Hallmark movie. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Naomi says:

      I thought of Ove as well, but I haven’t read it yet so I couldn’t really include it. Yes, winter is a good time for heartwarmers… and toe warmers… and nose warmers… ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Penny says:

    I loved John Alexander! ๐Ÿ™‚ But you already know that! (Many thanks for linking to my thoughts on it.) There was plenty to love here – it’s very well-written and well-written characters! I now have 2 other Lesley Choyce books sitting firmly on my TBR. It may very well lead to others he’s written too.

  4. DoingDewey says:

    I typically pick up a book that’s been on my shelves for a long time if I get a chance to read it with someone or if it fits a challenge I’m doing. Otherwise, things can languish on my shelves for quite awhile!

  5. buriedinprint says:

    He is an author I’ve yet to read as well, but this one seems to be getting a lot of attention! As for favourite heart-warmers? I’m rereading Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and I think that would count….

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