Birdie / Tracey Lindberg
New York: HarperCollins, c2105.
I recently read this book on the recommendation of Kate Sutherland, who said it wasn't to be missed, which was then seconded by Kerry Clare, whose review has recently gone up at her blog.
Her review says pretty much what I'd thought of this book -- it's a striking narrative voice, a story told of an experience not much explored from the inside, and a timely read in this era of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Lindberg tells the story of Birdie, otherwise known as Bernice Meetoos. Birdie has come through a lot in her life, and now that things have sort of relaxed into a safer setting, she's literally laid out; she's facing all of the abuse and trauma of her past while she lays still in bed.
From her childhood in which she suffered abuse, to her years on the streets, to her time in "the San", Birdie has survived and retained her sense of self. She has made it to Gibsons, BC -- the place where The Beachcombers was filmed -- in a sort of pilgrimage to the character of Jesse, her ideal of "a healthy, working Indian man". She has found herself a job which includes an apartment; she lives above a bakery run by a white woman who nevertheless becomes an important support for her.
As Bernice begins to reckon with her past, all of the issues she has been avoiding begin to arise. She takes to her bed, lying in a dream world while her landlady, her Aunt Val, and her cousin Skinny Freda take care of her physical needs. They worry about her, but Birdie is half-aware of them, as well as being aware of tv's The Frugal Gourmet, who is a guide of sorts for her.
But Birdie's focus is on her inner journey. Lindberg uses language in an energetic, twisty way -- combining words into phrases that perfectly catch Birdie's meanings: skinnyhappy, sistercousins, motheraunt, and so on. The narrative is circular, so you need to go with it, trusting that it will all make sense at some point, but I found that the energy and the sheer presence of Birdie carried me through. It did take me two starts to get going on this book, but once I was caught I raced through it. It's a beautiful, fresh, and vibrant way of telling a story, one that I admired greatly.
I think that this is an important read, covering so many current issues and themes, and it's told from a much-needed perspective. But even with the hard-hitting content, this is not a tough or dark read. It seems to power along, with the inclusion of humour and sarcastic observations which lighten the read. As noted in my 2015 year-end post, this was one of my top reads of the last year, and it's one I highly recommend to readers who like character and language focused stories.
One book that is also told from a woman's point of view, mostly in BC though much further north, in Kitimat, is Eden Robinson's excellent Monkey Beach. It's about Lisamarie, a young woman who recounts much of her past and the traumas she's encountered, along with a leavening of humour. It's similar in that sense, though it tells a story with a bit more magical realism in it.
If you are looking for another story from an aboriginal woman, move a little further east and read Rose's Run by Dawn Dumont, a Saskatchewan comedian. In this story, Rose Okanese decides to run a marathon to spite some her fellow Rez residents - despite the fact that she hasn't run in 20 years. But there's more than a marathon at stake... Rose is a smart-talking, funny woman; for a fast-paced read with humour mixed with horror, try this one.