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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 181

Island: The Complete Stories is a collection of sixteen stories, written between 1968 and 1999, in which the author Alistair MacLeod presents a haunting and soulful picture of his homeland in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia—with the exception of the story "The Golden Gift of Grey," which is set in northern Indiana where MacLeod taught in the 1960s. In this collection the author depicts the struggle between the modern world with its selfish materialism and the historical, almost fairytale-like world of his childhood with its traditional values. This struggle is perhaps most evident in "The Tuning of Perfection," in which the protagonist falls victim to the materialism of the world and can barely save himself. In this story, as in many others in this collection, MacLeod presents a painful depiction of the way in which humans tend to betray animals. All of the author's stories in some way demonstrate the frailty of human relationships, especially when challenged by the lure of wealth, comfort, and materialism, but ultimately MacLeod's fiction in this collection show that despite all its struggles, life is far from meaningless.

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Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1882

Even though he had long been described as one of Canada’s finest writers, the general public became aware of Alistair MacLeod only after the publication of his bestselling first novel, No Great Mischief (1999). MacLeod is hardly prolific. Over a three-decade period, though he worked steadily on his short fiction, he produced just sixteen stories. All but one of them appeared initially in Canadian and American literary magazines, but they were later published in The Lost Salt Gift of Blood(1976) and in As Birds Bring Forth the Sun (1986), both of which had gone out of print when the success of the novel created a demand for MacLeod’s other work. Island: The Complete Stories was published in response to that demand.

Almost all of MacLeod’s works are set in Canada’s eastern provinces, mostly on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, and almost all of his characters are descended from the Scottish Highlanders who were driven into exile during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries but who tried to remain faithful to the values they brought with them to the New World. The one exception is “The Golden Gift of Grey,” which takes place in northern Indiana, where MacLeod taught during the 1960’s. However, like his other stories, it focuses on the conflict between traditional values and the selfish materialism of contemporary world.

In “The Golden Gift of Grey,” a father has brought his family from a coal camp in rural Kentucky, where they lived in a close-knit community but could hardly make ends meet, to Indiana, where he can make a decent living. However, he now sees his children rejecting everything he and his wife hold dear, from mountain music to simple virtues and parental authority itself. Jesse, the teenage protagonist, understands enough about his parents’ values to feel guilty about skipping school to gamble in a pool hall, but he convinces himself that by giving them the thirty-one dollars he has won, he can earn their forgiveness. His parents do not agree. They order him to return what they see as tainted money, and he feels compelled to obey them. However, when his fellow-gambler figures out a way that Jesse can keep the money without actually lying to his parents, Jesse is delighted. To him, this seems like a happy ending. Not only can he keep the money, but he thinks he that he has also found a true friend. In reality, though, Jesse has sold out his parents and the values by which they live. He has entered a world in which there is very little black and white but a great deal of grey.

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