Writing about home requires talent and these new authors have it

Elizabeth Cran
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People talk and write a lot about home, but mostly in a way that seems both sentimental and abstract.

The result is something that’s both vague and sentimental, even occasionally nauseating.

But, both the books reviewed here are prime examples of how to do it properly. They convey both the joys and the lacks of home, and its funny side.

Congratulations, therefore to both authors Betty Campbell and Rex Brown.

“Out from the Harbour” by the latter (Flanker, $17.95, edited by Stan Dragland) tells of an almost self-sufficient island in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, and especially of a tiny community of about five hundred people called Tack’s Harbour. It was resettled in the ’60s, and hardly one stone of its buildings remains upon another.

Down to the Sea Again by Betty Campbell (privately published, no price given, probably between $15 and $20) is the story of her life from 1934 to 1968. In the latter years, she returned from the Island, which she had left in 1952.

By 1968 she had acquired a husband and three daughters. While almost half of the book is about her upbringing on the farm and in the small town of Murray Harbour, part of the point of the whole book is the strong and detailed impressions it can leave on one, without nostalgia or repining. This too makes the little book above average. However in March 1968 she — rather reluctantly — agreed to move.

“In the end,” she writes, “my decision boiled down to the notion that someday I might want to move back and if I said no now, I wouldn’t have the nerve to suggest it later.”

This good analysis shows something else about Campbell’s quality of mind and probably applies to many others who come home.

Out from the Harbour is a more introspective book, probably because Tack’s Beach no longer exists as a community. While there was certainly poverty there – some families went through spells of existing on tea and bread – there also seemed to have been a lot of comfortably off people “not rich, not poor,” among whom were the author’s family.

The narrative moves slowly around the community, telling everything of interest in each household, and where ever home was situated in relation to every other.

Everything is described in loving detail, from how to make a baseball last longer to how molasses was measured when being poured from the barrel.

A book to be enjoyed, it may help some people to change their opinion about resettlement and small almost self-sufficient communities.


Elizabeth Cram is a freelance writer who writes a book review column for The Guardian. To comment or to send her books to review, write her at her new address: 95 Orange St., Apt. 101, Saint John, N.B., E2L 1M5, or call her at 506-693-5498.

Organizations: The Guardian

Geographic location: Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, Murray Harbour Saint John

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