Des Kennedy | Commune

Reviewed by: Howard Stewart

About the Author:  Des Kennedy has been writing, homesteading, and trying to live a sustainable lifestyle on Inner (Denman) Island for over 50 years. The magnificent gardens created by Des and his partner Sandy have inspired much of his writing. This includes five novels, five books of non-fiction and a memoir, as well as many magazine articles. Three of Des’s books have been nominated for the Stephen Leacock medal for humour and one for the international Annual Literature Award by the Council of Botanical and Horticultural Libraries. He has also written for The Globe and Mail and CBC Television.

About the Book:   “Commune” reads like a blend of Denman history, fiction, and creative autobiography (is that even a thing?). The book’s not about Des Kennedy, yet one catches what feel like glimpses of the author in many places as his protagonist casts his mind back to his early days on the island. It’s written mostly as a memoir from an aging counter-culture type named Christian Shorter. Much of his story – though not all – is about as foreign to today’s young adults as were old timers’ First World War stories for us youngsters when we heard them in the 1970s.

When Shorter and his partner came ashore on April Fool’s Day 1970, they discovered an island community set in its ways and not easily convinced of the virtues of nude bathing or marijuana. The newcomers on the other hand, had come to celebrate freedom and solidarity in their search for an alternative to the mainstream North American lifestyles that so offended them. Members of the title’s commune are a curiously mixed bag of people from far off, some of whom are more inclined than others to recognise their privileged backgrounds, the sexism that remained stubbornly woven into their ‘counter culture’, and their profound ignorance of many of the practical skills needed to survive on their new island home.  

While the local (and global) scene fifty years ago was very different from today’s, there were familiar things too. The island community was deeply divided over issues such as cutting trees and a developer’s grand scheme for a ‘world class development’ that was sure to ‘put the island on the map’. And the idealism of people determined to focus more on co-operation than competition is a recurring theme that lives on in some corners of Denman today. Certain things have improved, thanks to the island’s ‘feminist insurgency’ for example. And there were little victories – like the time they thwarted the annoying dope-seeking helicopters that plagued us in summers past. Other stories – like the transformation of Sunset Beach from a nude bathing venue to an intensive oyster farm – are sadder. All are grist for the musings of the aging hero as he comes to term with getting old in situ. Altogether, they make for another charming tale from a master story teller, whom we are lucky to have back at this year’s Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival. 

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