This is a recommendation for 2½ books and a just-launched TV series, and for the books’ author, Eden Robinson. As a consequence of watching the TV pilot I’m now re-reading the books, which is strong testimony. While this is pretty Canadian stuff, I think the story of a disadvantaged and hard-pressed young aboriginal person, lost in strange spaces, would resonate in plenty of other landscapes. Anyhow, it’s dark and entertaining, with sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll and supernatural creatures you would not want to meet on a dark night. These are page-turners, keep-you-up-too-late stuff.
The TV series is on CBC (Canadian public TV); here’s a pointer which I’m not 100% sure will work outside Canada. If it does, the shows are free but there are ads. I thought S1E1 captured the spirit of the books perfectly and I’ll be spudding out. Sorry, it’s real actual TV so you’d have to wait a few months to binge it.
Our hero is Jared, a Native high-schooler whose family is deeply, spectacularly dysfunctional.
Drugs, violence, you name it, all the usual marks are checked. The locus of chaos at Jared’s place is his mother, who’s all about trashy men and bad drugs, with a casual attitude toward rent, utility bills, and education. Granted the difficulties she’s sort of lovable, and definitely to be feared not pitied. Jared’s Dad (not situated locally) is a wastrel of a different flavor.
The thing about Jared is he takes care of people, whether or not they deserve it; it seems he can’t help it, it’s just who he is.
Which means Jared has a high-stress life. It helps that he’s bright and well-organized and actually makes enough money to keep the family afloat. (Not legally, but still.) He’s got his own substance-abuse issues and suffers from typically-toxic high-school culture.
Now mix in the Trickster of the title, not a natural creature at all, except sometimes a raven; there are strong roots here in our Pacific-Northwest Native story culture. Trickster has a name: Wee’git.
The supernatural bulges through the surface of reality in horrifyingly believable ways; its inhabitants are not cuddly and not friendly and are apt to bite off pieces of human anatomy, given a chance. The first book is set in a mid-coastal town and the second mostly in Vancouver, my hometown, which I disclose because it may have contributed to my being completely taken with these stories.
It seems very unlikely that the TV series will achieve the full dark craziness of the books, but early indications are positive. The actors playing Jared his his mother are razor-sharp.
Hmm, I seem to have got way down here without talking about the underlying social issues. Canada has systemic racism just like everywhere else. In particular there’s no getting away from the fact that Canada is substantially built on stolen land. The abuse of our indigenous people has been explicit and multigenerational and brutal. So, unsurprisingly, a lot of them are really hurting. These stories inhabit that reality and show you things you can’t unsee, with awesome clarity but without ever giving you a feeling that you’re being lectured. A lot more Canadians would benefit from learning the truths on display on these pages.
Oh, and a word about the author. She has a couple of other books which I plan to read, and when you hear her on the radio or YouTube or whatever, she’s a scream, with a big laugh and an endless line of good-humored stories about Native life and writer’s issues and, well, everything. I think she’d be a delight to hang out with
[Disclosure: The buy-this-book links above are Amazon Associate tagged and if you follow them I might make a buck.]