MEDICINE WALK by Richard Wagamese


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Wagamese (Dream Wheels, 2006, etc.) sends young Franklin Starlight on a "medicine walk," a journey of knowing, in this story about the nature of manhood.  

Franklin’s been called to western Canada’s lumber-mill town of Parson’s Gap by his father, Eldon, who has lived "a life with benchmarks that only ever set out the boundaries of pain and loss, woe and regret, nothing to bring him comfort in his last days." Eldon’s dying. He wants Franklin to carry him into the mountains to "a ridge…sitt[ing] above a narrow valley with a high range behind it," a place Eldon once found peace. "I need you to bury me facing east...[s]itting up in the warrior way." His father ever absent, Franklin was raised by an old man with an unexplained connection to Eldon, a farmer who cherished him and taught him to cherish the land-centered ways of Franklin’s Ojibway and Cree people. Franklin is only 16, "big for his age, rawboned and angular…grown comfortable with aloneness and he bore an economy with words that was blunt, direct." Wagamese is a keen observer, sketching places ("stars in the thick purple swaddle of the sky") or people ("He leaned when he walked, canted at a hard angle to the right as though gravity worked with different properties on him") elegantly, economically, all while gracefully employing literary insight to deftly dissect blood ties lingering in fractured families. During the trek, Franklin finally learns about his father, "the story of him etched in blood and tears and departures as sudden as the snapping of a bone"—his own father dead in WWII; how he nearly killed his mother’s abusive boyfriend; his nightmarish Korean War experience; and his broken promises to Franklin’s mother.  

A powerful novel of hard men in hard country reminiscent of Jim Harrison’s Legends of the Fall.

Pub Date: April 14th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-57131-115-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Milkweed
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2015


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