Kid Culture

A Tourist’s Guide to Glengarry

A review of A Tourist's Guide To Glengarry by Ian Mcgillis

Published on October 1, 2002

A Tourist’s Guide To Glengarry
Ian Mcgillis

The Porcupine's Quill

It’s hard to imagine a busier or more stressful day than the one the boy Neil McDonald experiences in the pages of Ian McGillis’s novel A Tourists Guide to Glengarry. He’s just 9 and he has trials and troubles of every possible sort short of death. There’s the to-squeal-or-not conflict in which he doesn’t rat on the kid he wanted to turn in, but blurts out a tale about another kid and gets himself into trouble with the Italians. There’s the sports-card-in-the-classroom crisis that leads him to the unthinkably rebellious act of taking back that which had been confiscated from him. And, when he gets home after school, the fact that his family is moving to another neighbourhood finally penetrates his otherwise preoccupied mind.

The novel is at the same time a reminder of the richness of kid culture and of its precariousness. Neil lives a rich life in a complex little world, and yet it is all lost to him in a day. When you think of life’s passages, graduations, new jobs, marriages, transfers, old age and retirement most often come to mind. Sudden moves from a rich and fully inhabited community are less frequent, and most often come in the aftermath of some kind of tragedy or upheaval.

Neil is the youngest child in a large family, and for his parents and siblings the move is a normal passage to a larger, more appropriate home. The others in the family can imagine different lives, but Neil has no idea of community other than the one he was born to, and that makes it a wrenching move. Interestingly, he only experiences a fleeting moment of rebelliousness, and then goes willingly into the unknown. The book purports to be the boy’s recollection of his last day in Glengarry, written in the days right after his move. It’s occasionally a stretch to believe that a child would have written this with such clarity of detail and characterization, but its a doable stretch.

It’s also a bit difficult at first to feel any fondness for Neil’s neighbourhood. It’s one of thsoe suburbs that mushroomed around Edmonton during the oil boom. There’s very little evocation of landscape in the novel, and there actually is little variety in the north Edmonton neighbourhood described here. The song “Little Boxes” could have been written about these very streets. It is not likely a place where any tourist would ever touch foot, so it says something about the boy when he decides to call his book a tourist guide.

But through the eyes of a child, Glengarry is an intriguing place, full of people from all cultures and classes, drawn to the place by the boom. In the Catholic school where they spend their days, they all try to do the same things the same way – as Neil expresses in his fascination with Top 40 music and baseball cards – but they go home to an infinite variety of families, relationships, and expectations.

A Tourist’s Guide to Glengarry is a reminder that all of life is a passage, and on our way from one end to the other we touch people who make a difference, whether they are special teachers, dream girls, best friends, or unusual thinkers. It happens everywhere, to all of us, even in what at first seems to be the bland neighbourhoods of boomtown. mRb

Reg Silvester is a writer and editor living in Edmonton. His two collections of short fiction were published by Coteau Books, and he has recently edited two Book Collective titles. He is currently working on a novel.



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