2 December 2013
The scene: Highway 17, somewhere west of the 596 Junction. A mushroom cloud of smoke from a small forest fire is rising up to herald the beginning of another Northwestern Ontario summer. Mike Saunders is coming home to Minaki.
Readers will have trouble liking Mike initially, probably because of the rather overwhelming influence of his obnoxious friend Skip. It is difficult for people who have grown up in this area to stomach the stereotypical views of the region and its inhabitants that so many cosmopolitans seem to have. Skip’s generally revolting attitude and manner only serve to emphasize those views of the “Great White North”. Mike has more depth to his character, however; a depth that seems to drip be drawn out by his return to the river, the strength that was developed in his youth, masked over by his urbanization, then slowly rediscovered and redeveloped as he visits and renovates the home of his childhood.
The reader recognizes the struggle between the two sides of Mike’s character in the mirror of the restoration of the Stonehouse Inn. When there is a setback in the project, Mike slips back into Skip’s sphere of influence. As the project nears completion, so Mike becomes more wholesome. MacDonald also emphasizes the character development of Mike by comparing his relationships with city friends to his growing friendship with Maggie, his father’s former housekeeper at the Inn. It is interesting that, as the novel progresses and the “new” Mike begins to assert himself, Skip and some of the other urban characters seem to absorb some of Mike’s wholesomeness. The reader finds himself growing just a little closer to them.
The story itself is strong and involving. Raised by the River has been written by a man who has a deep understanding of human nature and an obvious love for this region. McDonald is aware of the stereotype image that Kenora has and uses it to advantage. He also uses his experience of the Minaki folk and wilderness to effectively, and often humorously, crash that image. Everyone who reads this novel will get up from it with a sense of respect, not just for Mike, Maggie and Minaki, but for Jake McDonald and his talent as a writer.