Brian Fawcett’s engrossing new book is as good as any hockey novel gets. Whether you’re a fan of the sport or a devotee of tense, multi-threaded storytelling, you’ll find something to love in this book that bursts with family secrets, small-town violence, and scads of on-ice action.
The story stars washed-up, fortysomething player Andy Bathgate (not to be confused with the NHL star of the same name), who lives in the fictional Northern B.C. town of Mantua. His team, the Mohawks, is in last place in a four-team league. Andy battles age, injuries, indifferent colleagues, and a complicated personal life in an effort to keep his passion for hockey alive.
He is not someone, however, who longs for past glories. Andy’s history is tragic: as a young man playing in Chilliwack under a different name, he was involved in a bus accident that took the lives of several teammates. Ashamed, he roves the continent for a number of years before adopting a new name and moving to Mantua. Keeping his past quiet becomes complicated after he discovers family he didn’t know he had – a son, a half-brother, and a father whom Andy always assumed was dead.
There is a subplot that pairs nicely with these familial machinations: Mantua is under siege from the inevitabilities of 21st-century capitalism. A multinational logging company is looking to take over the town’s main industry, and a popular Junior A hockey team is infringing on the Mohawks’ turf. Andy soon learns that the misfits he has surrounded himself with are capable of great strength, unity, bravery, and forgiveness. His revelations about small-town loyalty culminate in a heart-pounding scene involving a bear attack.
Fawcett has written a gripping, funny, tender story with an unconventional narrative arc and great voice. The world he creates is detailed and vivid, and the characters linger in the mind. As the saying goes, The Last of the Lumbermen is in it to win it. Let’s hope it hoists a trophy or two.