Candles on Bay Street.
Review posted: 7/20/03
This is a poignant little story about first loves, facing death, and everything in-between. Although I normally try to steer clear of cliches like saying a book is touching, sweet, poignant, stirring and so on and so forth, this book makes it thoroughly unavoidable. On the up side, although every descriptive cliché in the book applies here, the book itself is far from being cliched.
Although McKinnon's first novel, Dancing at the Harvest Moon, left me less than impressed, Candles on Bay Street more than makes up for it. The characters live and breath for you, sparking empathy and interest. By the end of the first chapter you have a vested interest in them. The main character, and the voice of the story, Sam is utterly engaging. As are the people in his little world. Sam lives in tiny Fort Kent, Maine, where the most interesting thing to happen every day is probably what you hear about someone else. He's happily married, likes his job, is the most typical guy you can imagine. Until one day, his childhood friend and secret crush, Dee Dee sweeps back into town. Suddenly, all those old feelings are haunting him. His loyalty and love to his wife are in conflict with his never requited, ever present love for Dee Dee.
McKinnon walks a tight line between sappy sweetness and real, deep emotion in Candles but never loses her balance. One of the saving touches is Sam's own wry sense of humor as he looks at his life. As the book progresses, the story plays out skillfully, interweaving the deeper themes of death, cancer, and assisted suicide with Sam's own daily struggles. There are a lot of ways that this book could have been ruined, but McKinnon dodges them all with a deft touch.
This book is a lovely portrayal of the memories of first love, finding the line between love and friendship, and old loyalties, in addition to the most basic, most eternal themes of life and death. It's also a lively, loving portrait of small town life. I recommend this book with no reservations. What more can I say except - McKinnon got it right.