Just finished one of the contenders for this year’s Canada Reads. Candy Palmater will be defending The Break during the week of March 27 – 30 when five celebrities battle out the question, “What is the one book Canadians need now?” Here’s my prediction…although I have only read one of the other five contenders, I started three of the others and found them hard to get into. The Break is compelling and puts indigenous women and their issues in the spotlight so I not only think it will win, but that it deserves to win.
The novel begins with a young mother witnessing a violent crime on a barren cold “break” in the city…we’ve all seen it, a long empty swath slicing through forest or subdivisions with nothing more than robotic looking hydro towers holding up electrical wires for as far as the eye can see. The attack in ‘the break’ becomes the focal point of the novel with everything else connected to it.
This Métis author, in her first novel, forges a very real look at indigenous people struggling to integrate into urban centres while still having a strong relationship to the land. The author creates empathy for the indigenous women but equally helps the reader get beyond various stereotypes, to see that the white police officer who appears jaded is not a bad man (albeit oblivious to his own racism), he’s just been doing a hard job for a very long time. And the homeless juvenile delinquent has been abandoned herself and therefore lashes out–she is living in the winter of Winnipeg but also in the winter of her soul. A young indigenous mother marries a white guy and moves into a better neighbourhood believing it will bring her and her children safety, when all it brings is alienation and self-doubt. “Vermette offers us a dazzling portrayal of the patchwork quilt of pain and trauma that women inherit, of the big and small half-stories that make up a life.” (Globe and Mail)
It is a story of brokenness but also of amazing strength and resilience, the importance of family, and how to break out of old patterns of understanding or behaviour. There is such beauty and such rift in this very complicated community in North Winnipeg where the author grew up. Her ability to capture such a comprehensive snapshot of Canada from various perspectives makes it my strong choice to win Canada Reads 2017.
Check out a CBC interview with the author, which is definitely worth a visit. Just click on this link: How Katherena Vermette turned a terrible vision into a visionary debut novel