Jeannette Armstrong, Slash

Another one down for the Second Canadian Book Challenge - good fun over there, if you haven't visited.

I hadn't gotten around to Jeannette Armstrong's Slash, though I've heard for years of its importance for those of us interested in how Canada can either include or relate to First Nations in such a way as to make the arrangement work for the First Nations, rather than for Canada (exclusive of First Nations). For those keeping score at home, yes, I do indeed feel compelled to write in this elliptical, recursive phrasing when I write about First Nations peoples, individuals, and matters.

But to the book.

In a lot of ways, and for a lot of reasons, it doesn't make sense to evaluate Slash against the standard criteria for fiction, or for nonfiction for that matter, though one can certainly do that. It's a standard, quite predictable bildungsroman; there's a huge amount of exposition and markedly little drama related to the characters themselves; dialogue generally takes the form of debates between Distinct And Opposing Theoretical Positions, expressed in lengthy chunks of text while one character - sometimes angry - manages to listen patiently to another character's rejection of the first character's entire worldview. Not wildly satisfying, you'd think.

But you'd be wrong, at least for this reader.

I really did get wound up about the life and plight of Tommy Kelsaket / Kelasket (the last name is spelled both ways in the book, but there's no comment to clarify which is right, if either), who at one point after being stabbed grabs his attacker's knife and fights back - hence earning the nickname "Slash" among certain circles. I was excited by the subject of the debates/dialogue, which is expressed with a freshness and clarity that for me made the book irresistible. I was pleased to learn the history, even though I've got to go digging for details now on dates and places, so I can place events against the various historical timelines in my own head. I enjoyed the flashes of delicate natural description, including of Tommy's desire to see his place in the world.

A professor's blurb on the back cover of Slash concludes with the words, "Canada should read this." Yes, Renate Eigenbrod, Canada should read this. And I'm a-gonna see how many excuses I can find to include this text in my courses over the coming years....


John Mutford said…
I'd recently read a fine contemporary collection of Native Poetry in Canada editted by Armstrong (with Lally Grauer). I didn't know she wrote anything besides poetry. Thanks for the clarification.
Anonymous said…
This would pair nicely with Gerry William's Woman in the Trees, also set in the Okanagan...
Anonymous said…
I was forced to read this book for a nursing course and disliked it very much.
If you like redundant, repetative this book.
I could've summed it up in one chapter, but I found this truly dragged on.
I would much rather learn about history in a different manner.
Hopefully my paper on it will be half decent.
richard said…
You're right, Anon., that against the standard fiction approach, this novel doesn't stand up (like I said in the post). But that's partly the point. Slash is all about rejecting the standard approach, resisting colonialism in all its guises, which includes the literary ones.

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