A good novel, not a didactic tract.

Author:Richards, John
Position:BOOKS - Book review
 
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At the time of writing, the short list of five novels for the 2017 Giller Prize has just been announced. Eden Robinson's latest novel made the cut.

By coincidence, the novel I read just before Son of a Trickster was Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children. (I know, I should have read Rushdie's masterpiece long ago, but I didn't.) I mention this trivial coincidence because Rushdie and Robinson both employ magic realism as means to enhance scathing critiques of their respective societies--South Asia from the 1940s to 1970s, northern British Columbia today.

In Rushdie's tale, the central character, Saleem, is born at midnight on the day of India and Pakistan's independence. Children born within an hour of independence possess magical powers. Saleem's powers consist of being able to discern exactly what is in the minds of others. In a first-person narrative, we follow both Saleem's domestic life and the country's major political events with the aid of his magically enhanced insights.

The central character in Robinson's tale, Jared, is an Indigenous teenager living with his divorced mother in Kitimat. It turns out that Jared is not the son of his supposed father; he is one of many sons of Wee'git, a trickster. Wee'git appears in the novel several times, first as a stranger on a bus who sits beside Jared, reveals the secret of his paternity and tells Jared that he has survived even though "your mother shot me in the head." Wee'git later appears as a raven inviting Jared to join him as a trickster and escape the torments of evil spirits. Jared's mother, it turns out, is a witch with magical powers of her own. She is also a heavy drug user.

The novel benefited from publicity surrounding a melodrama at the Walrus, whose fiction editor invited Robinson to publish a chapter in the magazine. Other editors insisted that she ease up on the use of profanity. After several iterations, Robinson withdrew the chapter, accusing the Walrus of censorship. The fiction editor resigned in support.

There is certainly lots of bad language and violence in the novel. In an early chapter, Richie, a drug dealer, insists that Jared's mother repay the drug debts of an ex-boyfriend. Richie makes his demand in a note tacked to the front door of their home with a knife. When she finds it, she comments to Jared, "Some fucktard sure laid a monster hex on us." She does not pay. Shortly thereafter, "with a big shit-eating grin," Richie looses his two pitbulls on Jared. Before they can maul...

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