A Search for April Raintree
- Beatrice Culleton Mosionier (Author) and Cheryl Suzack (Editor)
In Search of April Raintree. Critical Edition.. Portage & Main (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Renée Hulan
The new critical edition of In Search of April Raintree edited by Cheryl Suzack makes a wonderful addition to the emerging canon of literature by Métis writers. To my mind, a good critical edition should meet certain expectations. It should place the novel in its critical, historical, political, and social contexts. It should relate the text to issues in its reception as well as to issues in the wider discourse of literary studies. It should address issues and questions arising from the novel and its reception. The critical edition of In Search of April Raintree succeeds in fulfilling all these expectations while also carrying out important cultural work.
In tracing the critical context, the author offers a singular perspective. In "The Special Time," Beatrice Culleton Mosionier shares some of her thoughts about writing In Search of April Raintree. By placing the experiences that shaped the novel in context, Moisonier addresses her discomfort with the attention to autobiographical content and she expresses concern that people she cares for might be judged unfairly because of it. "The Special Time" in the title refers to Mosionier’s belief, as a child, that, given enough of the right kind of time, she could solve all the world’s problems. Although she says she never found that special time, she goes on to describe how her interest in the problems of the world was translated into concern with issues facing her own family.
Just as Mosionier’s response is indispensable, so is the abridged form of "’Nothing But the Truth’: Discursive Transparency in Beatrice Culleton," which Heather Zwicker justifiably calls Helen Hoy’s "groundbreaking essay." When it appeared, Hoy’s essay introduced academic readers not only to Culleton’s writing but to a constellation of issues surrounding both the novel and "Native literature" in general. It framed discussions to follow, including many of those included in this collection, and remains the standard.
Like Hoy, several of the contributors draw on their experiences in teaching In Search of April Raintree to university students, adding the results of research on public sources as valuable background for the critical reading. Jeanne Perreault’s "In Search of Cheryl Raintree, and Her Mother" provides teachers and students with information on "the social and physical realities facing many people of Native heritage." Representing such problems, Perreault argues, are both "aesthetic" and "discursive" implications that make Culleton’s novel "another mode of activism and a powerful advocate of Native women’s rights." Perreault links the novel’s realism to a wider discourse on rights for aboriginal people by gathering together hard evidence of the things depicted in it. In a similar way, Agnes Grant’s account of her experiences as a foster parent resonates with scenes depicted in the novel. Margery Fee’s "Deploying Identity in the face of Racism" does this by considering documents such as Bill 031 and the Constitution Act of 1982, documents that continue to shape aboriginal identity even as they work with outmoded ideas of "race." By describing the difficulties arising from an identity that is "policed from both outside and inside," Fee proposes that the Métis person can fashion and "deploy" identity as a means of survival.
One of the critical edition’s particular strengths is the way the voices of the contributors seem to respond to each other, as do two of the strongest pieces in the collection. In Janice Acoose’s resistant and provocative reading, "The Problem of ’Searching’ for April Raintree," the "problem" is whether the novel adequately represents Métis cultural identity or leaves readers with some misconccptioius about the Métis. Acoosc expresses discomfort with the way writers tend to "formulate ’culture’" as a "box" packed with "a brown blob of Nativeness" rather than creating a distinctive Métis voice. Yet, while she concludes that the novel may not contribute such a voice, it is, she writes, "an important novel for critical discourse surrounding issues of identity formation and cultural transmission." In "The Effect of Readers’ Responses on the Development of Aboriginal Literature in Canada: A Study of Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed, Beatrice Culleton’s In Search of April Raintree, and Richard Wagamese’s Keeper’n Me," Jo-Ann Thorn offers an insightful analysis of the changing literary strategies in the development of Métis literary voices since Campbell’s Halfbreed that indicate this cultural transmission.
Throughout, the essays constitute an engaging discussion so that they stand on their own and form a whole at the same time. For example, in answer to Fee’s question "Why does Cheryl have to die?" Mosionier herself writes that
Of the two sisters, Cheryl Raintree was the character whom I most wanted readers to love. I intended it that way so that when she died we would be so very sorry at the loss of her potential.Heather Zwicker argues that "as feminists we desperately want Cheryl’s uncompromising political vision to triumph over April’s liberal quiescence"; instead, by denying us such an outcome, the novel points, as Zwicker’s title states, to "The Limits of Sisterhood".
Just as, in the words of Janice Acoose, In Search Of April Raintree "opens up a space for critical discourse about the formation of identity and the transmission of culture," the critical edition opens a space for more scholarship. Readers might wish it included a comprehensive bibliography of reviews, interviews, and articles concerning the novel; however, the essays themselves introduce a range of possibilities for the interested researcher. Cheryl Suzack and the contributors are to be congratulated on a collection of critical essays that readers, students, and teachers alike will welcome and celebrate.
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MLA: Hulan, Renée. A Search for April Raintree. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #167 (Winter 2000), First Nations Writing. (pg. 130 - 131)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.