Medicine River by Thomas King
rating: 5 of 5 stars
Really terrific novel. After reading Thomas King's Green Grass, Running Water I had very high expectations. This was a very different book, but no less enjoyable. While Green Grass, Running Water played decadently with meta-texts and inter-texts and was very upfront on its dealings with the Big Ideas, this book is much more subtle and understated, but as effective and, in many ways, does the same sort of thing, only not so loud.
The principle characters in Green Grass were flamboyant, grabbing the narrative and tossing it around wantonly, here we get Will, who so often seems to the one being grabbed and dragged and tossed about.
But at the heart of both texts is the trickster. In Green Grass, we get Coyote and Changing Woman and the Lone Ranger, Hawkeye, Ishmael and Robinson Crusoe (and a particularly mischievous narrator) ripping stories, past and present, to pieces, leaving Noah and John Wayne and others stunned and castrated and confused. In Medicine River this role is subtly staged by Harlen Bigbear. Like the trickster in Green Grass, Harlen trips through the text, trying to make good and set things right and create the world as it should be, and like a trickster it rarely, if ever, goes to plan, but somehow all works in the end as it should, according to some unwritten, easy code of righteousness, justice and balance.
So, Medicine River doesn't come with the bells and whistles of Green Grass, but there is a different joy to be had in its subtlety, the way it does so much without seeming every to try. Terrific.
(Incidentally, if you live in Southern Ontario, Thomas King is running in a by-election for the NDP in Guelph. Visit their site here and support him -- we need people like this in government!)