- John Moss (Editor)
Echoing Silence: Essays on Artic Narrative. University of Ottawa Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Drew Hayden Taylor (Author)
Fearless Warriors. Talonbooks (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Drew Hayden Taylor (Author)
Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth. Talonbooks (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Eve D'Aeth
If these works have anything in common, it is that they come from an unexpected source, from places about which one cannot make easy assumptions. Fearless Warriors is a collection of short stories about Otter Lake, an Ojibway reserve in Ontario. They have a strange backlit quality, the effect of a change in narrative focus midway through the story. Stories begin with a situation and set of characters observed by Andrew, and then a turn in narrative leads us further into Andrew’s experiences and relationships, and hence into perception of greater complexities than the stories at first seem to offer.
Take for example the last story in which Andrew’s sister Angela tries to impress on a young bouncer in a bar in Peterborough the inadmissibility of the term "wagonburner." Angela grasps the young man’s prized leather vest and threatens to damage it if he doesn’t apologize, and the two negotiate, uncomfortably twinned, assisted by the manager and Andrew. The visual comedy of the situation is fully exploited, and also a certain blatant didacticism. An unexpected ethical dimension is added when Andrew reveals that, unknown to Angela, he and the manager have both agreed to bribe Tom, the bouncer, to apologize, which he eventually does. At the beginning, "Crisis Management" appears to be about racial slurs that get built into the language, and how they affect their users and the hearers. As it turns out, it also deals with a family dynamic, the relationship of brother and sister with each other and with their mother, who, while she doesn’t appear in the story, plays a role in it. Like many of the stories, this one ends with unresolved questions: Which battles are worthwhile? Is it disloyal not to support family in an unworthy battle? "Fearless Warriors" indeed.
"Fearless Warriors" is an ironic reference to the participants in a barroom squabble in which Andrew feels obliged to come to the aid of his friend William. The combatants are prohibited from returning to the bar, and as they and their angry and embarrassed girl friends drive home, they run into a deer. Although all enjoy wild meat, this is different: the deer is injured and the four are distressed at its suffering. Andrew finally dispatches it with a tire iron, and the title achieves a new dimension, not wholly mocking.
"Summer Lightning" is a troubling story with its typically unresolved question of whether a son, Jamie, can come to terms with the homosexual partner and relationship of his widowed mother, and whether she can accept that her beloved husband is truly dead and not merely missing. Andrew observes, helps his friend Jamie renovate the mother’s house, and records the community’s hostility to the relationship; he himself can provide no answer.
Death, disappearance, disrupted lives; incidental cruelties set about with kindness and love: the tales are dramatic and strongly visual. The narrator’s voice is, in contrast, gentle, unemphatic, ironic; sometimes speaking with a forthright underdog gallows humour, and sometimes with depth and subtlety.
The out-of-focus road sign of the cover picture is well chosen, and the book generally is well-produced, except for a few irritating lapses in editing: "then" for "than," "loosing" for "losing," "throws" for "throes."
The play Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth is a continuation of one of the stories, "Someday," in which a woman, Janice (or Grace), removed from her mother and the reserve as a child, returns as an adult to visit her family. She has been brought up by a non-Native family in Toronto, has no horror stories of ill treatment, is well-educated, a comfortably-off lawyer. It is she herself who has initiated the reunion; she wanted to know her birth family; but birth ties cannot withstand the differences in culture and the emotional tension: she returns to Toronto after visiting for only a few hours.
In the play, Janice is given another chance. Her sister, Barb, comes to fetch her from Toronto to take leave of their mother, who has recently died. Barb is accompanied by her partner, Rodney, and his brother, Tonto. As the three break into Janice’s apartment, Toronto is, in ironical reversal, treated like an extension of the reserve where it is customary for guests to wait inside a host’s house for her return. The theme of the play is serious enough, but its developement is lightly handled, and indeed, with the deliberate reversals of stereotype that Taylor uses, comedy is inevitable.
The two women are strongly drawn and well contrasted. Both are intelligent and determined; the one is bright, polished, and professionally successful, the other, centred in her family, angry but not implacable, outspoken, and articulate. The men are both charming, funny, and sympathetic; they have voices rather like the narrator’s in "Fearless Warriors." The outcome is perhaps predictable, but the means of getting there is not. Relationships and lines of communication are constantly queried. No one and nothing is allowed to settle into stasis.
As Moss states in his engaging preface to Echoing Silence, "This is a book about narrative, yes, but it is a book of stories." The multiplicity of its stories, the variety of voices coming from different places, disciplines and lives, resonate with one another and with their magnificently intractable topic, the Canadian Arctic.
Each contribution invites a unique response, although to do that is not possible here. Some are down to earth. Graham Rowley, for example, recounts part of his and Canada’s past in matter-of-fact tones and concrete terms. "There is another north, as well," he states,"—a north that a writer may describe but which never existed except in imagination." He himself, however, opens up vistas for the imagination when he says, "The coast proved to be farther west than the dotted lines on the map, so we added some two thousand miles to the area of Canada ..."
Similarly, Wayne Grady in "On Making History" tells the story of ploughing through the ice in 1994 in the Louis S. St. Laurent, to reach, as near as possible, the North Pole, that "like the object of all quests, is both a mythical and an historical place." He repeats and lets us hear, "the ancient antiphonary of the sea." The reader is made aware of physical enterprise and metaphysical adventure.
In another kind of multidisciplinary exploration, Aritha van Herk assumes the persona of Willem Barentsz, and with characteristic strength, writes her history, geography, perceptions of place, her "geografictione."
Franklin’s expeditions appear in essays by Wiebe, Parkinson, and Woodman. Wiebe examines the reticence of Richardson’s journals, which may record a lack in the explorers rather than in their generous hosts. In solid prose, Wiebe illuminates certain barren patches of Richardson’s journal, and suggests that Richardson overlooked the heightened spiritual awareness of the Dene because of his Eurocentric background and its tendency to disregard or devalue the unfamiliar. Through the Victory Î¡oint Record, ihe Admiralty lorm filled in by Commander Fitzjames, third in command of Franklin’s final fatal expedition, Parkinson deciphers the story of the brief document itself and exposes the immense bureaucratic structure that underpinned it. Woodman examines the Inuit oral record, which likewise imparts information about the events and about their modes of communications.
Aron Senkpiel, Lorrie Graham and Tim Wilson, and Marlene Goldman criss-cross the ground, discussing the works of Wiebe, Moss and van Herk, and their relation to the actualities of place and to other works. As Goldman discusses van Herk’s attempts to free Anna Karenina, the writing of narrative, and the North from masculine domination, we come across yet another dimension of North: North as an expression of gender. As Sherrill Grace states in "Gendering Northern Narrative," "van Herk turns the tables on the male adventurer/author/narrator by re-place-ing him, but that replacing is not so much an erasure ... as an opening up of fiction and geography to another discourse...." She speaks of other arts and in her discussion touches on the intrusive power of, for example, the film camera, to destroy as it exposes to view. I recall here the fragility of Northern ecosystems, where conceivably the most constructive action is sometimes to refrain even from being there/here. Grace suggests alternative ways of seeing, including Judith Currelly’s, whose Phantom Herd appears on the cover of the book, "presenting a land suffused with warmth and filled with present and remembered life."
Hulan tells of how North supplied the background for stories for boys, inducting them into the mystique of heroism necessary for the maintenance of Empire. Grant’s title "Imagination and Spirituality: Written Narratives and the Oral Tradition" encapsulates her contribution. What about the voices of those to whom the North has always been home? Echoing Silence begins with Cournoyea’s account of documenting oral history. Alootook Ipellie contributes his vigorous, funny, profound, and at times scathing prose, and the book ends with two wonderful warm stories related by Mary Carpenter who, in the discussion on appropriation, takes the view that writers should not be required to "second guess their thoughts when they write."
Echoing Silence is amazing in its variety. To quote Mary Carpenter again: "To support only one kind of beauty is to be somehow unobservant of nature." Land, people, images, history, voices echoing and answering coalesce in the reader’s mind into the idea of Arctic, of North.
- Listening to Strangers by Colin Hill
Books reviewed: 13 Ways of Listening to a Stranger: The Best Stories of Keath Fraser by Keath Fraser and The Work of Mercy by Stephen Guppy
- A Poetics of Spatiality by Michael Roberson
Books reviewed: Annihilated Time: Poetry and Other Politics by Jeff Derksen, The Enchanted Adder by Rona Murray, and Shadows on a Wall by Charles E. Israel
- Widening the Margins by Peter Dickinson
Books reviewed: The Ethics of Marginality: A New Approach to Gay Studies by John Champagne, Queer View Mirror: Lesbian and Gay Short Short Fiction by James C. Johnstone and Karen X. Tulchinsky, and Plush: Selected Poems by Jeffrey Conway, Sky Gilbert, Courtnay McFarlane, David Trinidad, and R. M. Vaughan
- Culture Up and Away by Len Findlay
Books reviewed: Concepts of Culture: Art, Politics & Society by Adam Muller
- Contemporary Short Stories by Charles E. May
Books reviewed: The Journey Prize Anthology 2000 by Catherine Bush, Marc Glassman, and Hal Niedzviecki, Write Turns: New Direction in Canadian Fiction by Joy Gugeler, and Islands West: Stories from the Coast by Keith Harrison
MLA: D'Aeth, Eve. Taking Soundings. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 23 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #167 (Winter 2000), First Nations Writing. (pg. 147 - 149)
***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.