An eclectic mix of stories, sometimes irreverent and occasionally scarifying, about First Nations peoples in northern Canada.
“Super Indians,” one of the strongest stories in this collection from the veteran Van Camp (Kiss by Kiss, 2018, etc.), has the wisecracking attitude of early Sherman Alexie, as its young narrator bemoans how the tribal leader, Chief Danny, siphons funds and keeps the community stuck in a rut. (“I would spend my life uncolonizing Chief Danny…save the North from him and every other loser leader out there.”) Similarly, in “Man Babies,” a man attempts to deliver some tough love to his new girlfriend’s layabout son, who’s proving that “our warriors will remain couch potatoes. That our languages and customs will die.” Van Camp can tweak this approach to make it more compassionate, as in “The Promise,” in which two boys practice pro-wrestling moves on each other to help cope with their fathers' absences. Or he can reshape it into bleak horror, as in a pair of stories in which global warming unleashes an army of demons called the Wheetago; our neglect of the environment dooms us to having our “heads like chalices served up as offerings, full of brains mixed with blackberries.” Those two stories aside, Van Camp is mainly concerned with everyday lives in the region where he grew up in the Northwest Territories, and he can give everyday experience a Thurber-esque charm, as in “Ehtsèe/Grandpa,” in which the narrator attempts to connect with his grandparents in absurd or ill-advised ways (watching E.T. with grandpa, getting both of them stoned). The lack of an overall consistent tone can make the collection feel centerless, but Van Camp seems capable of bringing glints of humor to nearly every predicament, be it world-ending or just day-wrecking.
Straight talk and dark fantasy from an underappreciated corner of North America.