This is my North America read for September, which is running a bit late as I didn’t do much driving and therefore book listening, for a few weeks. But a trip to the Northern Territory has fixed that, and I’ve even made time to write it up.
[I must have written the para above before I loaded for Darwin four or five weeks ago. But four weeks broken down sees me struggling to get something down yet another month later.
I finally got my truck back on Fri 28/10, loaded Sat and unloaded Sun at Banjo Station again. Today, Mon, I am 1,000 km west, in a motel in Derby (in WA that rhymes with Kirby) hopeful of securing a load home in the morning. And yes, I’ve been listening to Son of a Trickster, at last]
Eden Robinson (1968- ) is a Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations woman from British Columbia (on Canada’s west coast). Son of a Trickster (2017) is her third novel, and the first of a trilogy, and the novel is presumably set in country she knows, though I didn’t get the same sense of place that I did from, for instance, Life among the Qallunaat.
What I did get was the excitement I get reading the best Australian Indigenous Lit.
Son of a Trickster is a fast-paced, edgy, coming of age, with a side of Native American magic – Jared is sixteen years old, in year 10 at high school. His mother is a young, sexy, foul mouthed party girl and drug dealer. We see Jared aged 5 with loving parents, but it is soon clear that the father has left, has another family, and that the mother makes some poor choices replacing him.
When the story settles down, at the beginning of year 10, Jared’s mother has lived with and discarded ‘nice’ white guy David, and has taken up with the scary Ritchie. Jared has been adopted by Ritchie’s bull terrier cross, Baby Killer, but now it is old and must be put down.
Jared is living in the basement of his mother’s house, while the bedrooms have been let to tenants to cover the house payments. He does jobs for the old couple next door in return for small amounts of money and big home cooked meals. We discover that the old woman, Mrs Jax, took him in after David attacked Jared, and Jared’s mum nailed David to the floor with a nail gun and had to spend some time ‘dealing with anger management’ in jail.
Because this is year 10, there is a lot of angst over who is popular and who is not. Jared is an outsider, but has some cool as the baker of cookies using medicinal grade marijuana, and as a notable drunk (whose mother holds the best parties). He is also very smart-mouthed which mostly gets him into trouble rather than out of it.
Life for Jared picks up a notch when Mrs Jax’s granddaughter, Sara comes to stay. She is good looking, weird, has her own problems, likes sleeping with Jared, and might be a witch.
As the story progresses, who is and isn’t a witch becomes a serious problem. Jared’s father’s mother is a senior, and very wealthy witch. Jared’s father who lives in the next town over, loses his job. Jared’s step-sister has a baby. Jared sells cookies to help his father pay the rent. Jared’s mother hates Jared’s father and her ex-mother in law. But is Jared’s father Jared’s father?
Sara takes magic mushrooms, though Jared doesn’t, which sets off stuff which results in Jared having a toe eaten off by sea otters.
Another, older, maybe very much older, witch gets Jared to start attending AA, and, consequently, to resume paying attention to his schoolwork. Jared’s mum stops using meth. Sara cuts herself more seriously than usual, and her mother, whom everyone hates, comes to take her home.
The year comes to an end. A lot of this is very YA, but it has undertones both of grunge and of Indigenous.Lit cum Magical Realism which give the novel more heft. I’m expecting the next part of the trilogy to be Normal People meets Gabriel García Márquez. Of course if you’ve read Trickster Drift you’ll know whether or not I’m right, but that’s the direction, by the end, it felt like Robinson was heading.
I loved Son of a Trickster. Up till now the North American Indigenous authors I tried all had a very documentary style. Robinson doesn’t pretend that ‘Indians’ aren’t oppressed by settlers but, if you accept the spirit element, she has written here a sparkling work of normal everyday dysfunctional life.
Eden Robinson, Son of a Trickster, Knopf Canada, 2017. 336pp. Audible version read by Jason Ryll. 9 hrs