Glass Beads / Dawn Dumont
Saskatoon: Thistledown Press, c2017.
After so much international reading last month, I've returned home -- back to Saskatchewan where I grew up, in fact!
But this is a different Saskatchewan experience than mine was - it's the story of four Indigenous characters -- Everett Kaiswatim, Nellie Gordon, Julie Papequash, and Nathan (Taz) Mosquito -- all living in Saskatoon, the first among their families to live off the reserve.
In a set of interconnected short chapters, Dumont takes us through a couple of decades, from the 90s to the 2000s. The characters develop from shy or wild younger people to slightly older and more experienced ones, who have a deeper understanding of themselves and the elements of their lives. It's a quiet novel, in a way, often concerned with domestic decisions, and the mundane daily round of life. But this is what makes it shine.
From first dates (ie: Julie's first date with a white guy, supported by her roommates) to Everett's landlord being imprisoned for domestic violence, to their own experiences with violence, racism and figuring out who they want to be (independent? married? politician? businessperson?) the characters share a range of personalities and desires.
As usual, I found the women more interesting; they had twice as much to manage, with sexism playing a role in their lives alongside everything else. They all seemed strong enough to survive, in their own ways, though. I did feel like Nellie was the heart of the book; from the beginning pages to the conclusion, she observed, and reset herself, and managed to find her space.
While earlier novels I've read by Dumont had a lot more humour in them (she's a very funny writer), this more serious overview of a quartet of relationships was touching, believable, and very readable. I was involved in these lives, wanting to see how they'd sort it all out. I loved the setting, and oh, that cover!
Definitely recommended; reflecting the concerns and desires of a particular group of people we don't hear from enough, it's honest, clear and the construction of it means you can read it bit by bit and not miss anything. Great for picking up in those short bursts of time you might have available.
It's also a nominee for the 2018 Evergreen Award, so Ontario readers, get into your libraries this month and remember to vote for your Evergreen choice!