Son of a Trickster is a dark night for the Canadian soul

Eden Robinson’s Giller-nominated novel about an Indigenous teenager is not an easy read. It’s not supposed to be

Nonetheless, this dark novel is essential reading for Canadians living in a time of reconciliation with Indigenous people.

Jared, a 16-year-old who lives in northern B.C., seems to have little to live for. His Dad is sick and financially dependent on Jared. His mom loves him but drinks too much and disappears too often. To get by, Jared makes pot cookies for cash.

Things look up a little when he meets a girl he likes. But it’s not long until she’s off to rehab and everyone’s blaming Jared. The pressure on his broken soul seems unbearable. In the final pages, to his mother’s and friends’ disgust, Jared decides to get sober. He reaches out to his maternal grandmother, a residential school survivor. They finally connect after a lifetime of estrangement.

What is ‘reconciliation’?

Following two recent court judgments that have left Indigenous families angry and afraid for the lives of their children, Canadians must ask themselves what does it mean to reconcile with Indigenous people?

Healing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people will be a long process. But there are a few things settlers must do right now to prepare themselves to participate fully in reconciliation.

First, we can learn the facts from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, which was released in 2015. It defines reconciliation as “a process of healing of relationships that requires public truth sharing, apology, and commemoration that acknowledge and redress past harms.”

We can also respond in practical ways to the commission’s Calls to Action.

And we can connect with the power of myth by reading fiction by First Nations authors like Eden Robinson.

Born in Kitamaat, B.C. in 1968 and a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations, Robinson was nominated for the Giller Prize in 2017 for Son of a Trickster, her fourth fiction book.

Unique point of view

There have been some excellent North American Indigenous writers in contemporary times, but Robinson’s first collection of short stories, Traplines, practically jumped into my hands when it was published in 1995.

It seemed utterly without precedent.

A young, female Indigenous, Canadian author? Yes! I was instantly curious. I thought I would have something in common with this young woman.

Her writing showed me that I do not. As a white settler, I was confused and disturbed by the violent, chaotic lives of the young Indigenous people in Traplines. My eyes were opened, perhaps for the first time, to the fact that I lived in a different world than these characters.

Traplines and Robinson’s later novel Monkey Beach writhe with youthful energy. Contemporary landscapes and realistic images combine with dark mysticism and Indigenous spiritual mythology.

Like her earlier works, Son of a Trickster does not fit into a tidy little box. I’m okay with that. In fact, that’s why I’m a fan. There is the feeling that Robinson records the stories that come to her as is, without judging them or sanitizing them. I respect that.

Horrific reality

The last third of Son of a Trickster is devastatingly dark. I could not understand why Jared should suffer so much. I felt angry at his self-absorbed, neglectful mother, and at Robinson for writing her as a woman with nothing to give the boy she brought into the world.

But that relentless suffering seems to be Robinson’s point. I must know what it’s like inside the Indigenous young person’s life today. It’s simply not a choice to stop reading.

The author’s use of language surprises from the first few pages of Trickster. Her dialogue, rife with profanity, creates a kind of delicious horror on the page, lending urgency and grit to the tale.

The images are gritty, too. The novel becomes increasingly harrowing as Jared’s life becomes an apparently inescapable cycle of violence and addiction. Finishing was hard.  Jared may have become numb to the injustices he faces, but to a non-Indigenous reader, this young person’s life is shockingly painful and completely unacceptable.

Robinson has said she plans to continue this tale in a trilogy. So things could turn up for Jared. He could find pride. He could discover his power. He could reconnect with his maternal lineage. He could overcome unjust circumstances.

I’m crossing my fingers.


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