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review 2018-03-11 01:43
It's a story beautifully told, but that doesn't make me less tired of it.
Medicine Walk - Richard Wagamese,Tom Stechschulte

(I have to acknowledge that this is pretty well in the "not for me" category, but setting that aside, here we go!)


The writing is gorgeous. It's set in the BC interior in about the 1970s, and it has a fantastic sense of place and time. There are multiple layers of community and place and history, and Wagamese really draws that out. The land is evoked vividly, and sometimes brutally, and it feels like what I've known of those places on a bone-deep level.


The story is about, on a deeper level, how utterly the concept of manhood can be messed up by a lack of positive male role models. Here that story is specifically about how the colonial system worked to strip first nations boys from ever having a chance at knowing their families, let alone their ancestors and traditions, and how adrift that set generation after generation of men. That too is vividly and brutally told.


On the surface level, it's about a man who has messed up and poisoned everything he has ever touched. A hearty dose of alcohol poisoning has led him to the end of his life, and now he has one last chance to reconnect with his teenage son (who had the good fortune of being raised by someone mostly more sensible). The son agrees to go on the Road Trip of Death, to learn about his heritage, and to bury his father in what as far as they can tell is a traditional fashion (though possibly not their own cultural tradition).


Honestly, I think all of these characters would have been better off if the father had just written the kid a long letter with all the info he coughs up on the three or four days of dying in this poor kid's arms. I don't especially care for the idea that a child is morally required to give doomsday chances to their abusive parents. In my opinion, spending your life alternately neglecting your kid and taking him on terrifying drinking binges does not entitle you to emotionally blackmail said kid into comforting you on your deathbed, and I'm tired of stories that imply that. (This one was somewhat saved by the kid continuing to be angry throughout, but nevertheless!)


(There was also a secondary character who knew almost all of the really important bits of this info, but decided it was the father's place to pass it on, not his, to which I call massive amounts of bullshit.)


All of the female characters were either saintly, dead or saintly and dead, with the exception of that one prostitute (the other prostitute was saintly). They are universally cogs in the men's stories, not characters with agency and dreams of their own. I'm also pretty tired of that story. I'm curious if that's a theme in this author's books, of if the story-specific if the fixation on fatherhood/manhood drew it out.


I feel like my dad might like this book? It is gorgeously written, just not for me.

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text 2017-02-20 01:16
Medicine Walk - authentic, complex, brutal in it's truth


Franklin Starlight never knew his mother and the few encounters he's had with his alcoholic father left him hurt and disappointed.


He's been raised on a small ranch in northern British Columbia by "the old man", who's taught him everything he knows about ranching and wilderness survival. He's also taught him about integrity, self-esteem and the qualities of good character.


At sixteen, Franklin's more a man then most.


When he gets a call from his father he's tempted to ignore it, but this time it's different. His father is dying of liver disease and wants Frank to help him travel to remote ridge forty miles out in the wilderness. Once there he wants "a warrior's death", buried sitting upright in the ground facing east "so he can follow the rising sun across the sky to the Happy Hunting Grounds."


As it's his father's dying wish, Frank feels duty-bound to oblige him. Besides, he's longing to know more about his family history including how he came to be brought up by the "the old man".


So begins the journey, from a small mill town into the wilderness, Frank walking and leading a horse his father rides because he is too weak to walk.


As each mile passes Franklin begins to know his father as the man slowly divulges his personal history, Franklin's history.


In Medicine Walk, Richard Wagamese has created a story that resonates on many levels. There's the portrayal of a Spartan way of life defined by hard manual labour, loyalty and integrity as conveyed in the characters of Franklin and "the old man".


Then there's the life Franklin's father has lived - one of never facing up to your demons and using alcohol to keep them at bay.


It's a story of the extremes of human nature - of doing the right thing no matter how tough and painful it is, and doing everything to avoid it.


Wagamese' dialogue is authentic, his characters complex, and his story is brutal in it's truth.





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