From Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize winner Kevin Patterson, an epic first novel of north and south, infused with stark beauty, startlingly realized characters and fierce truths.
Born on the tundra in the early 1950s, Victoria knows nothing but the nomadic hunting life of the Inuit until, at the age of ten, she is evacuated to a southern sanitarium for the treatment of tuberculosis. For six years she has no way to contact her parents. She grows healthy, learns Cree and English, becomes accustomed to books and radio, sunbathing and store-bought food. When she is finally sent home, she steps off the plane into a world that has changed radically. Even her father, Emo, a legendary hunter, has come in off the land to hunker in on Rankin Inlet at the edge of Hudson Bay. And Victoria herself has become a stranger to her family and her birth culture.
Vividly evoking the modern contradictions of the north – walrus meat and convenience foods, dog teams and diamond mines, midnight sun and 24-hour satellite TV – Patterson takes us into the heart of Victoria’s internal exile, as she marries and raises a family. Many love her, but none can heal her. Not her son, who disdains the settled life she has bought for him and who struggles to be like his grandfather. Not her daughters, who embrace the pop culture of the south. Not her husband, Robertson, who slowly becomes estranged as he pursues the economic opportunities the north offers white men. Not her Inuit lover, who can offer her only glimpses of her lost childhood. And most especially not the local doctor, Balthazar, who has come to Rankin Inlet from New York City to escape scrutiny and seems fated to harm instead of heal.
When violence strikes Victoria’s world, followed quickly by horrifying medical tragedy, Kevin Patterson shows how the tenuous bonds of friendship, love and family fly apart. And then at last, with great feeling, he evokes the unexpectedly tender ways in which the survivors struggle to their feet and carry on.
It was morning, again, and she was awake and so were the kids, but they had all stayed in bed and listened to the walls shaking. Nine, or something like that, and still perfectly black. She had been dreaming that she had been having sex with Robertson and she was glad she had woken up. Even the unreal and fading picture of it had left her feeling alarmed – though that eased as the picture of the two of them, entwined, had faded. In another conscious moment she was able to blink the topic away and out of her thoughts. As it had been.
She could hear her girls, Marie and Justine, whispering to one another in their bedroom. She couldn’t tell what they were saying. She heard the word “potato.” Pauloosie, her son, her oldest child, was silent. She listened carefully and thought she could hear him turning in his bed. And then the wind wound up and just howled.
As a girl she had not been this restless, waiting out storms with her parents on the land in a little iglu, drinking sweet tea and lying on caribou skins. It had been more dangerous then but less frightening. Storms make an iglu feel more substantial somehow.