Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rez Sisters

Fifth House, c1992.

This is one of the books I've just read for Yann Martel's "What is Stephen Harper Reading?" campaign. Although I've been following along since the beginning, I've been falling behind a bit, so thanks to Dewey's challenge I had a bit of a kick in the butt to start reading from this list again. I started with this play; I find it a bit difficult reading plays, as it is not my usual habit. I have to slow myself down and really try to hear the voices of all the different characters, to try to picture the stage. I didn't find that very difficult with this play, however.

It is the story of seven women from "Wasy", a Northern Ontario reservation, who hear about The World's Biggest Bingo being held in Toronto and determine that they will all go. They have their own reasons for wanting to win: for example, to be able to buy a stove big enough to cook for all the children on the reserve, or to afford a fancy new bathroom (including shiny white toilet). Each woman is a separate individual with her own set of quirky habits and deeply hidden motivations. They are all very, very real, and anybody with a large group of loud, talkative female relatives or close friends will relate. This play sharply illuminates the conditions of native women in Canada, but I am nowhere near well informed enough to draw parallels with real situations or to point out subtleties that I am sure I am missing. There is also the magical presence of Nanabush appearing and disappearing throughout; he is the Trickster character in native culture and added a spiritual element which I found to be quite moving. This was written in the 80's and perhaps it is because of this that I find certain elements familiar. I was a teenager in the 80's and lived in a town set between a few reserves; I went to school with girls who were just as sharp tongued and powerful and funny, although as a naive teen I had no idea of most of the social issues they faced.

I found the story disturbing and yet moving, funny and melancholy, and not afraid of talking frankly of real life. While we don't see instances of these things, it includes references to violent rape, to spousal abuse, to awful heartbreak, and more simply, to characters using the toilet with the door open. (and actually we do see an instance of that last one!).

It is a play I wish I could see in performance. I always find many more layers when a talented director and cast interpret a script and help me out just a little!


  1. This is the 2nd Tomson Highway review I've read today. This has been the work of his that I've wanted to read for some time.

    Are you also, by any chance, wanting to add this to your total for the Canadian Book Challenge, or do you want to keep them separate?

  2. John - I will keep this one separate as I have just read an Ontario novel that I'm going to review for the CBC. Hope you will read some Highway, he's excellent.


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