Kevin Major Ann Johnston - Essay

Ann Johnston

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

For those who like to think that family life is still more or less as it was on Leave It to Beaver, Far From Shore hits hard and low. For others, weary of the sensationalism of juvenile novels, Kevin Major's story is a brave look at how a tough period can harden a boy like a nut. The pressures on the Slade family are like a vise gripping a migraine. Some (as in Major's last novel, Hold Fast) come from the frustrations of life in a small Newfoundland outport—boredom, unemployment, a general yearning to be anyplace but home. But more often they are the pressures of a family that isn't sure it's a unit any longer, and the one who flounders most is 15-year-old Chris. A cocky, wisecracking kid—when Jennifer snarls, he considers tossing her "a chunk of raw meat to quiet her down"—he is snared by the dissatisfaction around him, and becomes angry and confused. As a counsellor at summer camp, he agrees to take a boy who can't swim on a secret canoe ride, and is as baffled as everyone else when they almost drown.

Brilliantly, Major tackles his story in five voices—the four Slades, plus Rev. Wheaton, the camp director. They pass their story along like a hot potato, contradicting, misunderstanding and forgiving, until voices reverberate from the four corners of the house. When they finally come together, it's like the end of any family argument: you're pummelled and drained, and you can't remember whose side you first took. Major has pulled powerfully at unwilling chords, making sense of the most confusing battleground there is. (p. 57)

Ann Johnston, in her review of "Far from Shore," in Maclean's Magazine (© 1980 by Maclean's Magazine; reprinted by permission), Vol. 93, No. 50, December 15, 1980, pp. 56-7.