Banter / Read With Us

FROM THE EDITOR

Thank you to all of you who watched my Zoom interview on July 26 with Michelle Good, author of the award-winning novel Five Little Indians. If you missed it, you can view the recording at the bottom of the page, as well as my July 14 discussion with Deena, Jocelyn and Teresa.

Good was gracious, warm, funny, erudite and incredibly open and honest about the historical and institutional racism that Indigenous peoples have faced and still contend with on a daily basis. The novel is about five young residential school survivors as they struggle to cope with being taken from their families at six, stripped of their culture, subjected to horrific abuse, and released 10 years later with no survival skills and clear cases of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The author, a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, described the first story she heard from her mother about St. Barnabas, and Anglican-run residential school at Onion Lake, on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan. When she was 11, her mother refused to eat a piece of bread soaked with cat urine from a nun’s pet. She was sent to the principal’s office, where he berated the girl with an unspeakable racist slur. The next story Good heard, when she was about 10 or 11, was about her mom’s friend Lily, the little girl honoured in the novel, who hemorrhaged to death from tuberculosis right in front of her mother. “How does that affect you in your life? How does it affect the things that you aspire to? The things you believe in the things you choose in your life?” Good asked.

The book answers these questions by humanizing the children, who have “desires and dreams and flaws and strengths.” Although she wrote it as “a love letter to survivors,” it also answers another, more ubiquitous question that she said Indigenous people hear all the time: “Why can’t they just get over it? I mean, it’s so long ago.”

“It’s educational in a literal sense, in terms of ‘oh my God, this actually happened’, but also educational in response to that question,” she said. “This is why they can’t get over it.”

Good wants to open our eyes and our hearts and our minds to the truth of Canada’s racist past, and she did that in the interview with humour and grace. We thank her for this gift, and allowing us a deeper understanding of residential school survivors’ resiliency and courage in the face of the federal government’s racist policy of assimilation, and for showing us how and why the shock waves are still felt through the generations.

You can educate yourself further by reading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, The Survivors Speak, familiarize yourself with the TRC’s 94 calls to action, and sign up for the University of Alberta’s free, 12-lesson course on Indigenous history and contemporary issues.

– Kim Honey

Here is the recording of our July 26 interview with Michelle Good about her debut novel, Five Little Indians.

Here is the recording of our July 13 book club discussion of the novel.

RUNNERS UP WORTH READING

1LuckyMarissa Stapley

This rollicking road-trip novel begins with the titular heroine landing in Las Vegas with her boyfriend Cary, both fraudsters of the highest order, who are on the run after bilking seniors and stashing the money offshore. When Carey disappears along with their ill-gained fortune, Lucky’s numbers come up in a lottery, but she can’t claim the prize and risk being identified as the police are on her trail. With Lucky’s traumatic childhood with her con man father revealed in flashbacks, it’s no wonder the TV rights were sold to Disney with Stapley tapped to write the pilot. Also, it has the best opening sentence: “Someone had left a baby outside the nunnery.”

This book club pick will no lead to lively debates on duplicity, truth, luck, nature vs. nurture in child-rearing and how to spot a con from a mile away.

2New Girl in Little Cove Damhnait Monaghan

If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting Newfoundland, this book allows the reader to move there with Rachel O’Brien, a 23-year-old teacher who’s taken a one-year contract in the fictional outport of Little Cove, population 389. The first person she meets is Phonse, the school janitor, who stops his bike to ask her if she’s broken down at the side of the road when she stops to take in the breathtaking view of the bay. “It’s right mauzy today,” he comments, and we’re off on a mad caper full of Newfoundlandisms such as “gentle Jaysus in the garden” and cultural crossed wires, like the time Rachel’s landlady tells her she’s a hooker – a rug hooker, she quickly clarifies when Rachel looks askance. Monaghan is a mainlander from Toronto who moved to Newfoundland and taught in outport schools, so her lived experience imbues Rachel’s story with authenticity. The book will prompt discussions on regional differences, outsider perspectives, Newfoundland life, Catholicism and even bilingualism.

3One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot Marianne Cronin

This debut novel from a young British writer is a delight, and not just for its non-linear structure and unconventional chapter lengths, some as short as five sentences. Lenni Pettersson, the 17-year-old protagonist, may be in hospital dying from an undisclosed illness, but her sass and wicked sense of humour – particularly when she devises a scheme to fill the empty pews in the hospital chapel – will have the reader laughing out loud. She is always devising new ways to get sprung from her hospital room, which is how she ends up meeting, befriending and exasperating the chaplain, Father Arthur. She also manages to enrol in an art therapy program for seniors, over the objections of a kind staffer she calls New Nurse. When she meets Margot Macrae, 83, and realizes their ages add up to 100, Lenni dreams up an art project that launches a deep friendship and offers a framework for the book, which unfolds as the unlikely pair reveal themselves to each other.

The beauty of the book lays in its depiction of Margot as a fully drawn character, not a doddering old woman, who is a bit of a rebel herself and has lived a full life. Then there is Lenni, who may be dying, but is trying her damndest to live to the max.

This book poses the central question of our lives: What does it all mean? How can we make our mark? It will have you confronting your mortality with a smile on your face, not to mention the existence of God.

4Find You First Linwood Barclay

Barclay, a former journalist, is a news junkie and current events are the fuel that sparks his imagination, with Elevator Pitch inspired by a report about a shortage of technicians to service Toronto high-rises and –  in one of my favourites – Google street view spies are the basis for Trust Your Eyes. Find You First is about an arrogant tech millionaire, Miles Cookson, who, diagnosed with a fatal illness, decides to track down all nine of his progeny from a sperm donation made to a fertility clinic when he was in his 20s. When they start disappearing, Miles and one of his children, Chloe Swanson, get drawn into a web of intrigue that will have you changing your mind about whodunit with every chapter.

This book treads an ethical landmine, and will lead us to consider whether sperm-bank babies should seek their donor fathers and vice versa, talk about chosen families versus blood relations, the nature of good and evil and, of course, whether a Winnebago can fit inside an office tower.