By Lynn Willoughby
The Break ~ Katherena Vermette
This is a hard book to review. It is well written, by a new and important Canadian author. It is a novel of shocking heartbreak as it shows us the underbelly of society that many of our Native people live every day. It is very disturbing. However, in light of what is happening world wide with the Black Lives Matter movement, maybe we need to be disturbed.
The large extended Native family of women are never far from each other. There are four generations and they live in and out of each others lives and homes. They cry together, they laugh together and they knit each other back to wholeness when needed. All have experienced racism, abuse of one form or another. They are dealing with abandonment, alcoholism, addiction and mental issues. There are many children and men who come and go but this is the story of the women.
When an unthinkable atrocity happens and two thirteen year old girls are attacked and raped, we begin to understand what this family means to each other. As the narrative shifts we learn the personal stories of Lou, a social worker, Phoenix, a homeless teenager, Cheryl, an artist who still mourns the unnecessary loss of her sister, Kookoom – the elderly grandmother who is the touchstone for all.
The Break refers to a vacant piece of hydro land in Winnipeg, where the attack occurs. It also has many other references – the break in relationships, the break down of our medical system, the break in a society where tragedies occur daily, the break between white people and Natives, the break in our correctional system. This book deals with gangs, trauma, hurt and the unbelievable violence women and girls can inflict on other women and girls.
Vermette does an amazing job of telling us the story of winter in Winnipeg, of pain, of trauma, of violence, of abandonment. But she also tells of “…the love that connected these women amid the suffering…”
This is a debut novel.
Winnipeg has the coldest winter weather of any major Canadian city. It is also Canada’s city that most often drops to -30 degrees Celsius or below.