Lesley Choyce has been a mainstay on the Atlantic Canadian literary scene for decades. The author of 100 books, he has written and published in every genre imaginable. He has won and been shortlisted for numerous regional and national literary awards, operates a publishing house, held teaching positions at Dalhousie University and other institutions, and worked as a television presenter. He is an environmentalist, a humanitarian, a surfer, a husband and father, and a tireless advocate for Atlantic Canadian writing and writers. Though a Canadian citizen since 1983, he is American born, having emigrated to Canada in his late twenties and adopted Nova Scotia as his home.
These details are relevant when considering Saltwater Chronicles: Notes on Everything Under the Nova Scotia Sun, which collects newspaper columns he wrote over the period from 2014-2017. Lesley Choyce candidly and unapologetically mines his own life experience for material, and the stories he tells in these pieces are, without exception, entertaining, instructive, poignant and filled with wry observations and self-deprecating humour. Family life, home improvement, government incompetence, surfing, chopping wood, drilling wells, struggles with illness and physical decline, are all up for discussion.
The word “chronicles” from the book’s title hints at a preoccupation with the passage of time, and a theme that he returns to again and again is aging. A New Jersey native, born in 1951, Lesley arrived in Nova Scotia in 1978: an educated, inquisitive, idealistic young man with long hair and few possessions looking to escape the clamorous pressure-cooker of life in urban USA. Those days might be long gone, but Lesley retains that idealism, that love of and respect for nature, and the wide-eyed faith in the essential goodness of humanity that spurred him on his quest more than 40 years ago and sustained him through good times and bad.
In Saltwater Chronicles he talks freely about the past but does so without regret. For sure, some of the articles strike a nostalgic note, but Lesley is accepting: he does not obsess over lost opportunities and he never complains about getting old. The most vivid and deeply affecting writing in the book concerns family: the death of his father, his wife’s bout with cancer. These episodes provide glimpses into the man’s heart and soul, and what we see is someone who is generous, loving and kind, and whose greatest wish is to leave the world a better place.
We are fortunate and should be thankful that in 1978 Lesley Choyce chose to make Nova Scotia his home. Everyone who knows him, or been influenced by or learned from him, would agree that his abiding good humour, optimism and compassion have made Nova Scotia a better place to live, work and write.
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Ian Colford’s short fiction has appeared in Event, Grain, Riddle Fence, The Antigonish Review, The Fiddlehead and other literary publications. His previous books are Evidence, The Crimes of Hector Tomás, Perfect World and A Dark House and Other Stories. His work has been shortlisted for the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Relit Award, the Journey Prize, and the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. He lives in Halifax.