While most of my summer reading composed of academic texts as a research assistant, or philosophical education books for my own thesis, I did manage to knock off a few books on my fiction list. This book has been on my To-Read list since it was published.
The Break, by Katherena Vermette has been on my To-Read list since it was published in 2016. With very good reason it turns out.
My reading interests are usually quite varied, and besides an abhorrence for sweet romance anything, span the entire spectrum from historical fiction to science fiction, and high fantasy. Lately, though, it’s either all sci-fi (alien romance is acceptable as long as there’s lots of science), horror (a la Stephen King or Richard Long), or Manitoba based writers. Frankly, the last category is what has been given most of my attention lately.
The Break, is by Manitoba author Katherena Vermette. I’ve read many of her other works including Singing Sisters (children’s book), and North End Love Songs (poetry). The Break is her first full-length novel, and well worth the wait.
It’s set in the North End of Winnipeg, a 2.5-hour drive from my house. The Break is a desolate piece of land with nothing but towering Manitoba Hydro towers, and a lot of devastation.
Let’s pause here for a second. I’m white, with largely colonial roots, complicated as they are with my genealogical roots from the British Isles (Highland, Welsh & Cornish) and slave sympathizers escaping to Canada via New York. I grew up in remote and rural Manitoba, on an idyllic farm, from a background of relative privilege. I haven’t lived in the North End of Winnipeg, I’m not Aboriginal. I can identify with
I still identified with Vermette’s characters, I have witnessed atrocities, and experienced my own, though I am thankful not in the violent ways portrayed in the book.
What’s really important, is that this book, as much as the characters may be fictitious, could be real. They could be, might be, and are many of the people I’ve worked with, volunteered with, and who live down the street, or next door to me. the family names, because this is a book about Métis and Aboriginal families, are familiar. I’ve met Vermette, and heard her speak at local events. I purchased my copy from Anansi press because I know the money will help people locally.
The Break is not an easy read. It’s visceral, full of phsycial and lateral violence, heartbreaking, and numbing. If not the best, it is with certainty, the most timely and thought-provoking book I have read since North End Love Songs and April Raintree. Vermette’s narrative, description of the bleak winter, coupled with the psychological deadening of the characters who are raped and tortured is a story all Canadians (and anyone really) should experience.
In a journey to remind myself that while I can identify with, and have experienced the fringes of the world of many missing and murdered Indigenous and Métis women; I will never be one of them. While I am thankful, and lucky to have been born into the family I have, the sorrow I feel for women who experience domestic, emotional, physical, spiritual, and psychological trauma has only deepened as a result of reading Vermette’s novel.
I hope you’ll check into reading this book for yourself, or one of Vermette’s other works. You can find all her books & more on her website.