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Sea of Tranquility

by Lesley Choyce

Ragged Island, Lesley Choyce’s fictional community off the Nova Scotia mainland, has survived centuries of various economic catastrophes through the entrepreneurial inventiveness of its inhabitants. Recent ventures include Phonse Doucette’s shoot-’em-up junkyard and Moses Slaunwhite’s whale-watching ecotours with on-board cappuccino. But now that the feds have the ferry service in their cost-cutting sights, no amount of imaginative diversification is going to save the island. What’s needed is a deus ex machina in the form of some international capital.

From where Choyce lives in East Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia, he can probably see Ragged Island in his mind’s eye just out on the horizon. In the 50-odd books he has to his credit, the sea usually gets a role. In this shrewd parable of life on the edge of Canada, he quilts together vivid scraps of island lore, from Acadian history to sauerkraut making and tales of a pet moose. Some scenes are played for satire, while others are real knuckle-biters (a child lost in a sea cave, tide rising). Most are solidly grounded in character.

At the heart of the novel is Sylvie, now an octogenarian, the last of an old island family and survivor of four good husbands. Sylvie has always had a “gift,” enhanced by years of transcending hard knocks. She can divine for water over the phone and talk to whales many fathoms deep. When things get grim, she hatches a plan to save the island.

By turns lyrical, funny, and mordant, Sea of Tranquility never takes itself too seriously. If the feel-good ending is a touch too sentimental, and that pop-up Japanese businessman a touch too convenient, it doesn’t spoil our enjoyment of the novel. Choyce pits the folks on the margins against the centre and gives them a fighting chance.