The FOLD (The Festival of Literary Diversity) is an annual event, in Brampton (Ontario, Canada) dedicated to telling more stories, to having audiences connect with a wider variety of storytellers. You can check out their lineup of terrific writers and storytellers who were a part of the debut festival in May this year, here.
Earlier in 2016, they posted a reading challenge, which I printed and dutifully began to read towards. (I’ve misplaced the link: sorry!)
- A book you’ve had for more than a year.
- A book outside of your ‘favourite genre’.
- A book you buy at an indie bookstore.
- A book by a person of a faith.
- A book by an aboriginal author.
- A book by a Canadian LGBTQ author.
- A book by a Canadian person of colour.
- A book by a FOLD 2016 author.
I’ve already discussed the following: Ernest J. Gaines’ A Gathering of Old Men (1983); N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Kingdoms (2010); André Alexis’ Pastoral; David Chariandy’s Soucouyant (2007); and Farzana Doctor’s All Inclusive (2015). And I’ve chosen Lydia Perović’s All That Sang as my selection for a Canadian LGBTQ author.
Today, a book by an aboriginal author, Harold Johnson’s Charlie Muskrat. (Which also counts towards my 13 indigenous reads for this year’s Canadian Book Challenge, the tenth challenge hosted by the Book Mine Set.
Harold Johnson’s Charlie Muskrat was a whimsical choice off my library shelf, on a Saturday afternoon browse. Only afterwards was I reminded via Twitter that he’s written several other books as well (which weren’t on the shelf), including Corvus, most recently, which sounds particularly intriguing.
However this was an excellent place to begin. And, speaking of beginning, you are probably wondering “Who is Charlie?” You’re not alone. “I thought he might be one of yours. His father was Greek and his mother was Cree. She thought he said he was Creek. You know the Indians in the States. But anyway, now we have Charlie and we don’t know what to do with him.”
Charlie is all over the book, as you might guess, but so is Harold Johnson: on the periphery as story-shaper but also in the guts of it, seeming to be both author and character. He creates drama and inhabits it. As does Wesakicak — the trickster.
“Wesakicak watched the mist swirl in front and around his moccasins. He was nowhere. Nowhere is a good place to be when you are trying to think. There are no distractions. Wesakicak looked up from his feet at the nothing that surrounded him. He turned full circle. Still nothing. Nothing in front or behind. No distractions, but no inspiration either. What to do about Charlie?Wesakicak had no idea. He walked onward not going anywhere. He waved at the mist in front of his eyes, tried to clear his vision, tried to see.”
But Wesakicak is not the only trickster. A black-robed figure prompts this exchange:
“’Do you remember the one we played on you in 1894?’
‘No, can’t say I was around back then.’
‘I was, honest, I was there. Fantastic. We snatched the earth right out from under your feet, the classic tablecloth trick expanded to a whole country. Now, that was magic. Certainly our best of all time, you should have seen it.’
There are many sharply funny incidents and exchanges like this one. Figures use a broom to sweep away the snow in front of cars which are slipping along road lanes (playing curling with cars), customs’ protocol is slightly altered (you can’t enter the US without a gun and a Bible) and readers witness bureaucrats scurrying around on Parliament Hill with bags full of money, worrying about being followed.
When a government employee, responsible for enforcing the Indian Fiscal Accountability Act, sees Charlie put quarters into a parking metre, the rep asks if Charlie got a receipt. His advice is complicated: “In the event that receipts are not obtainable, and I assume that you used a public meter instead of an authorized parking facility, you are required by section twelve thousand nine hundred and eighty-four, subsection eighteen ‘G’ of the regulations pursuant to that Act to fill out forms ‘K’, ‘P’ and ‘V’.”
“Four lanes flow into six lanes and flow into twelve lanes and I am a fish in spawn on a fast black river, and Thunder doesn’t know which way to go so he just goes. The black river glimmers and flashes between smears of windshield wipers. Slush and salt smaller the glass and I think I must be a Salmon to be swimming in salt water.”
Charlies Muskrat is much shorter than Green Grass Running Water, but it does have a similar tone, playful and insightful. It has a fable-like quality to it, and reminds us that “[t]he distance between the Ancestors and Future generations is not far, a short paddle in a light, fast canoe”.
It’s a short paddle, but a satisfying journey.