Eden Robinson, Traplines

One of my fave lines from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is from former president and perpetual man-about-galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox, on his own stylishness: "I'm so hip I have trouble seeing over my pelvis." Me, on the other hand, I'm a long way from hip. Always have been, always will be. I eat beets happily, enjoy bluegrass as well as jazz, delight in books about things that my blog stats tell me no one else on the planet appears to be interested in.

I've gone back to Eden Robinson's short story collection Traplines in advance of a grad student's defense in two weeks (great paper, well done, etc), reading the whole collection again rather than just the stories she's thinking about in relation to Robinson's novel Monkey Beach. Students love Robinson, with three grad students in my department defending Robinson projects this month, and no question she's an accomplished and polished writer.

But wow, I'm a long way from hip, and the positive critical attention to Traplines, and students' appreciation for it, really clarified that for me this weekend during my re-reading. Or maybe it's okay that it was a New York Times Book Review notable book. The NYT may not be as hip as I fear....

Anyway, I recognize that violence and drug use and abuse are markers of, and metaphors for, lives lived without white privilege, and I recognize that I've lived a life of white privilege. (Not that I've been wildly privileged as whites go, but social privileges accrue to the white. I'm not getting into it here, so don't tempt me to go on.) The thing is, I have a visceral dislike of stories emphasizing said violence, drug use, and abuse. I'm assuming that this is part of my blah response to The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, too, but I'm not digging up that one again just to figure it out.

And these stories have a seriously impressive level of violence; abuse in some cases approaches total domination; and drugs are normal, if also made to seem at times horrifying. Robinson's characters aren't all First Nations (though many of them are or appear to be Haisla), but their lives are the products of the social conditions in which they find themselves, and there's a lot of darkness with precious little light in any of them. The violence, in other words, is justifiable both on narrative grounds and on social-commentary grounds. I just don't like it.

And yeah, maybe it's because I don't want to look at the ugly parts of my society. But I'd rather think it's because I don't want my society to have ugly parts. Not that I know how to do that, and not that I'm the least bit active (outside my classroom) in doing much about it, but I'm getting closer to taking steps. I want to live in a better society than I do. Robinson's harrowing, violating, remarkable portrait of a society that I don't want to have to recognize as my own is (a) an aesthetic achievement and (b) an unnecessarily precise image of the effects of that version of our society I'd like to see overthrown.

Up to you to decide whether this counts as a recommendation of Traplines!


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