Twenty-Six by Leo McKay Jr.

Title:  Twenty-Six
Author:  Leo McKay Jr.
Release date:  January 1, 2003
Publisher:  McClelland & Stewart
Pages:  400
Genre:  Adult fiction
Source:  Personal copy

Twenty-Six takes place in a small town in Nova Scotia, a place where a disastrous mining accident takes the lives of twenty-six men there.  The narrative jumps back and forth in time, allowing the reader glimpses of life both before and after the disaster.  The main family the book focuses on is the Burrows family:  brothers Ziv and Arvel, their father Ennis, Ziv’s ex-girlfriend Meta, now living in Japan, and Arvel’s wife Jackie, the mother of his two daughters.  The effect of the mining accident on the Burrows family, is examined in rich detail as we get to know and sympathize with these characters.

This is a novel I would never have heard of if it weren’t for Lydia’s CanLit Week and her asking me to take part in it.  I can’t express how glad I am that I was given this opportunity, because Twenty-Six is a pretty phenomenal book and I am so happy to have read it.

Twenty-Six is about the mining accident, but it is more about the characters affected by it than about the accident itself.  The book is morose, haunting, but completely heartfelt and compelling, and I absolutely couldn’t put it down.  I felt so close to these characters, and the tragedy that tied them all together yet ripped their relationships apart, and I could have read about their lives forever and not minded a bit.

The Burrows family is the focus of the novel, and what a difficult life this family has had.  The patriarch Ennis has worked hard his whole life for his sons to have a better opportunity than he had, yet both sons ended up with dead-end jobs – one in the mine and one in a local department store.  And Ziv and Arvel’s mother became so fed up with her husband’s drinking that by the end of the novel she resorted to violent means to get her point across.  Ziv is practically sick with longing for his ex-girlfriend and disgusted with his own lack of determination to make something of his life.  And Arvel isn’t too good of a husband or father to his two small children, and as a result his wife Jackie is about to walk out on him and take the kids with her.  These characters are so realistically flawed, yet so believable, that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from them.  I was alternately falling in love with and disgusted with each one of them at different points throughout the book.  And I think that’s such a great place to be as a reader.

Also, the writing is just superb.  The town that these characters inhabit was drawn so perfectly, I feel as though I can visit the place and know it by sight right now.  The way the story came together, with the alternating time line, was just flawless, and I loved the journey, loved getting to that final destination to see where all the characters ended up.

Twenty-Six is a fantastic novel that I’m thrilled to recommend.  It was published several years ago but I definitely hope more people experience this beautiful story with its amazing characters.  Thanks to Lydia at The Literary Lollipop for asking me to participate in CanLit week and sending me this novel!

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18 thoughts on “Twenty-Six by Leo McKay Jr.

  1. I used to teach English at a university in small town Nova Scotia, so I’ll be particularly interested to check this novel out! Though I found my time there interesting, I was always aware of my status as an outsider and had to get out. Now I am writing a blog/memoir about my career transition: http://www.the-reading-list.com

    • Then you should definitely read it! I don’t know anything about Nova Scotia, really, but the town was completely brought to life for me. I’m sure it would be even more that way for you, if you are familiar with that area.

  2. Brrr, this reminds me of a lullaby (well, sort of) that my parents used to sing to my sisters and me when we were kids – it was about a mine disaster in Springhill, Nova Scotia. I loved the song as a kid, and then when I got a little older, I realized how depressing it was. :p

  3. Just finished reading Twenty six. Wonderful read.Since I grew up there I could imagine each area. My question is “Why not call it Stellarton. I Know Albion Mines was originally the name but since I lived there in the late 40’s it was know as Stellarton. The book left me wondering how there lives advanced, then again each can guess. Great story of one of the many tragedies that has happened in Pictou County

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