Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin
Most people have heard of the Trickster. Some people have even met him. Jared’s mom did. In Indigenous West Coast culture, the Trickster is a transforming raven who teaches lessons in morality by showing you what not to do. He’s the funny, foolish, irreverent, magical, tragic hero, and he gets around. Jared is “baby boy 361.” The Trickster’s fathered “532 children” since “the mountains were lumps of gravel, bare and treeless.”
Eden Robinson explains that Wee’git, as he is known in Haisla/Heiltsuk culture, developed a crush on Maggie Moody at an all-Native basketball tournament. Maggie liked another guy, so like Uther Pendragon, Wee’git transformed into his adversary for a little extra-curricular love. Jared is the result. He doesn’t know that he’s the son of a Trickster, though from an early age, Granny Nita (his maternal gran) curses him and threatens to kill and bury him, if he ever hurts his mother. Granny Nita has survived residential school and a TB sanatorium, so she’s strong. But she’s wrong about Jared. It’s his mom that does the hurting.
If this book seems complex, it’s because it’s about family. Several families, who live on the Northwest coast of Canada, where Robinson grew up. The story begins when Jared is four, and moves to Prince Rupert so his father, Phil, can work in a pulp and paper mill. There he meets his other grandmother, the sweet, supportive one: Nana Sophia. A few pages later, Jared’s sixteen, his parents are estranged, and he’s selling gourmet pot cookies to survive. The thing about Jared is: he’s a kind, compassionate, caring guy who tries to hold his nightmare world together. His mother, Maggie, is a party girl who never grew up. She’s a little crazy and she’s violent. Still, Jared lives in her basement, tries to go to school, keep fed, and help others--like the Jaks family who live next door. Mr. Jaks has dementia and Mrs. Jaks is dying of cancer, so Jared helps with yardwork and carves moose; even before their granddaughter Sarah arrives and he falls in love.
Language. With shades of Thomas King and Sherman Alexie; Eden Robinson plays a trickster herself, in this book. We live in Jared’s head, so most of the dialogue is written in contemporary teenager. As always, she doesn’t hold back. Her characters are real, raw people who curse, fight, get high, get drunk, puke, have sex and talk about it. Sometimes, the texting gives me pause (Cu, Kk, TTLA, shez, h8d) but I get the main idea. Maggie and Jared display unique repartee:
Jared: U goin anywhere 2day?
Mom: Nope. House catting. Skip skool n watch junk wit me.
Jared: Wanna go for a ride?
Mom: 2 tired. Got a plate of bacon here when u get hungry.
Then, interspersed with the contemporary jargon, Robinson surprises us with moments of italicized philosophical poetry. Quantum physics. Our universe is a membrane, a hologram, a soap bubble. We don’t go through the looking glass. We are the looking glass.
Near the end of the book, Trickster Robinson surprises me with something else; something I just did not see coming. I won’t divulge what that is. You’ll have to read it to find out. But I will say, it changes everything. Robinson’s new diet of “pan-fried tofu and nutritional yeast” seems to be working. Oh, one more thing. Kudos to Jennifer Lum for cover design. A black rainforest of blue raven wings and tiny stars captures the iridescent magic of this Trickster story.
Son of a Trickster is published by Knopf Canada.
WL Hawkin writes an urban fantasy/murder mystery series. To Charm a Killer was published in 2016. The sequel, To Sleep with Stones will be published in April 2017. She reviews and blogs at bluehavenpress.com