The following guest review is by Naomi MacKinnon of the Consumed by Ink book blog, who focuses her reading on books by Atlantic Canadians. Naomi claims she has kept a list of all the books she’s read since Grade 8!
Jacob has a fulfilling job in Toronto as a counsellor at a men’s outreach centre; men living with HIV. When he is asked to come home to Advocate, the small town in Nova Scotia where he grew up, to say goodbye to his dying grandmother, he has severe misgivings. He remembers the events of 1984 well; when he was 11 years old and his Uncle David came home after being away for more than a decade.
Uncle David has full blown AIDS and has come home to die. His grandmother is not happy to see him and she’s definitely not happy to have him at her house as he slowly fades away. Young Jacob becomes witness to the fear and panic brought on by the first cases of AIDS in the country. He witnesses the arguments his mother and aunt have with his grandmother, and with the rest of the town as they are gradually alienated by almost everyone.
My uncle would be long dead before attitudes began to change. He lived in the most suspicious, superstitious and reactionary years of the disease. My grandmother was the personification of these attitudes. She led the trials, even though they were against her only son. The situation was ridiculous, as bad as the divisions between the Protestants and the Catholics when the town was founded hundreds of years ago.
Jacob carries the anger and resentment from this experience into adulthood. It influences his choice of career as well as his personal life, which is pretty much non-existent.
I was the only one who couldn’t let it go.
His grandmother’s wish is for Jacob to give the eulogy at her funeral. He is surprised that she would want him to be the one to do this, and he at first refuses to have anything to do with it. But when he learns new information about his grandmother, he reconsiders. The book ends on just the right note.
I didn’t think I would be very interested in reading a story about the early AIDS crisis, but I was wrong (as I so often am). The writing style and alternating timeline kept me turning the pages. I was especially invested in young Jacob’s story, his friendship with the scrappy and fearless Deanny, and the impression all of it made on his young, developing self. Deanny was from the “wrong side of the tracks”, and in fact, it was the individuals from marginalised communities that supported the family most when they needed it.
Advocate is a small town, and what happened here certainly happened elsewhere. But I am giving you a chance to redeem yourself.
Darren Greer’s Just Beneath My Skin won the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award in 2015. This year, Advocate was a finalist for the same award. Advocate is also the winner of the 2017 Jim Connors Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction.
I definitely plan to seek out his other books at some point in the future.