The Chisholms are a rollicking, unpredictable family living in the north end of Sydney, Nova Scotia. At the start of the summer, fourteen-year-old Michael, his older brother Sidney and two of their friends build a raft on the tar ponds. It seems the ideal start to the holidays.
Then, over the course of one summer, Michael’s family gradually stops making sense. He has always been more than willing to call his parents by their first names and is generally supportive of Rory and Gloria’s “democratic” style of parenting, until suddenly faced with changes he can’t swallow. But it is his brother, Sid’s reaction that will bring about the greatest change of all.
The novel begins with an ominous Christmas dinner disaster and winds its way through encounters with nosy adults, a pukey car trip, practical jokes, family fights, trips to the corner store and summer days on the raft.
Along the way Michael introduces us to Tim Carson next door, Sid’s friends Rene and Alex, Rosemary Hawthorn, Louis V, Miss Shaw and the rest of the supporting crew in this chapter of his adolescence.
With a surprisingly keen appreciation for the city’s industrial landscape, Michael describes the inner workings of the tar ponds, railway yard, warehouses, docks, scrap piles, steel plant and used car lot that comprise his Arcadia.
Perhaps the most poignant and thoughtful scene in the novel takes place on a hot afternoon as Michael sits on the hood of an old Datsun, looking out over a junkyard, smelling vinyl upholstery and listening to the song of a cicada.
This is a thrilling first novel, bristling with humorous encounters, witty family banter, camaraderie and a boy’s response to overwhelming uncertainty and loss.
Jonathan Campbell has captured the idiosyncrasies and tenuous alliances on which family life and childhood friendships balance. Michael’s inquisitive character and acute sense of humour make for a narrative that is both youthful and wise.
Jonathan Campbell is the author of numerous short stories, plays and television dramas. Tarcadia is his first novel. Born in Montreal, raised in Cape Breton, Jonathan received a BA from Acadia and an English MA from Dalhousie University. He presently lives in the Annapolis Valley with his wife, painter Lindee Climo.
On Sunday, October 24th, beginning at 2 pm, Jonathan will be reading with Larry Lynch and Glen Hancock at the Cornwallis Inn Dining Room, 325 Main Street in Kentville, Nova Scotia, as part of the fifth annual Gaspereau Press Wayzgoose.
Catch Jonathan in Toronto, Ontario, on Friday, November 5th, beginning at 8 pm. He’ll be giving a reading as part of the IV Lounge Reading Series at 326 Dundas Street West.
Jonathan and Larry Lynch will be reading as part of the gritLit Writers’ Festival in Hamilton, Ontario, on Sunday November 7th. From 11 am until 1 pm the duo will be at the Staircase Theatre Café, 27 Dundurn Street North.
St. Catharine’s, Ontario, welcomes Jonathan on Tuesday November 9th as part of the Grey Borders Reading Series. From 8 pm at the Merchant Ale House, 98 St. Paul Street, he’ll be giving a reading with Larry Lynch.
Tarcadia retails for $27.95 Canadian and can be purchased from your local bookseller.