Lesley Choyce is an active, prolific author and his latest title The Unlikely Redemption of John Alexander MacNeil (Roseway Publishing, 2017) is bound to be well-received by the reading public. It is the tale of the octogenarian widower John Alex (as he is known to everyone) living in rural Deepvale, Cape Breton where he still sets a place for his deceased wife of thirty years, Eva. He is someone who has always lived his life without caring what anyone else thought of him. We join him at the story’s outset where he is considering if he really is losing his mind:
“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…. I usually pick up any hitchhiker that doesn’t look like an axe murderer or Brian Mulroney. The mailbox looked like neither.”
From these opening words, you know what type of reading experience you are in for, an elderly man with Mr Magoo tendencies, slowly realising that reality (along with his eyesight) may be slipping away from him little by little. There is also a likeable self-deprecating sense of humour about John Alex that makes him a protagonist that is immediately endearing. His perspective on his life’s changes since the passing of Eva evokes empathy in the reader, cleverly making his viewpoint the reader’s as well. This becomes important when a real challenge to John Alex suddenly appears at his door: Emily, a pregnant teenager with nowhere else to go. What follows is a story, not only of generational gaps but of mutual respect and understanding despite circumstances beyond their control.
How did Emily come to be at John Alex’s door? She was sent there by old Doc “Shaky” Fedder, the only doctor in town, who is a little unconventional in practice, but has the wisdom of years behind him. He certainly knew what he was doing when he sent Emily to John Alex, even if neither of them understood it at first. Doc knew that John Alex needed some purpose to his later years (he and Eva were childless), and that Emily needed a stable, supportive, and mature person to look out for her since her estranged parents (particularly her mother) wanted to send Emily off to Halifax to have the child and then give it up for adoption.
Mr Choyce fills the story with characters such as Sheila the amorous bookmobile librarian, the eccentric Doc Fedder, Father Wes Welenga, Brian, Emily’s budding eco-conscious boyfriend (who is not the baby’s father, however) and others that fill out the story, bringing substance to the rural Cape Breton backdrop. An enjoyable read that covers topics as diverse as Alzheimer’s, teen pregnancy, taboos and generational gaps, The Unlikely Redemption of John Alexander MacNeil is recommended for mature young adult readers on up.