My rating: 4/5 stars
Published: September 1, 2013 by NeWest Press
Source: Review copy from the publisher
At the height of the Great Depression, two Prairie children struggle with poverty and uncertainty. Surrounded by religion, law, and her authoritarian father, Cora Wagoner daydreams about what it would be like to abandon society altogether and join one of the Indian tribes she’s read so much about.
Saddened by struggles with Indian Agent restrictions, Hunter George wonders why his father doesn’t want him to go to the residential school. As he too faces drastic change, he keeps himself sane with his grandmother’s stories of Wîsahkecâhk.
As Cora and Hunter sojourn through a landscape of nuisance grounds and societal refuse, they come to realize that they exist in a land that is simultaneously moving beyond history and drowning in its excess.
I try to go with my gut when I rate books, but sometimes, I make a change after letting a book digest for a while. I gave Rupert’s Land three stars at first, but as you can see, I’ve upgraded my rating to four stars. In the week since I finished it, I often find myself thinking about the story, the characters, and the historical context. I keep thinking that I need to recommend this book to people. Doesn’t sound like three stars to me.
So why the middling rating to begin with? Quartermain uses a distinctive writing style that was hard for me to get lost in. I stayed just a bit removed that perfect reading state where you’re not thinking about the words as you read them, you’re just absorbing them. On further reflection, though, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the writing. It’s more a matter of taste, or mood, I think. (I’ll spare you a tangent on star ratings and what they mean.)
The writing is poetic, relies of streams of consciousness from our main characters, and has some quirks, like made up compound words and a lack of punctuation. The latter actually didn’t bug me, but I know it does some people. You will find a smattering of Cree vocabulary as well – don’t worry, there’s a handy glossary in the back. I would compare the style to Faulkner or even the little throw-away chapters in The Grapes of Wrath, you know, like the one where the men are at the car dealership and the reader “hears” the background noise and snippets of conversation.
To get a sense of what I mean, check out this scene, as heroine Cora is teased by her friend Netty for refusing to try on some lingerie:
You going to wear schoolgirl bloomers all your life? Netty leans against the door frame dropping one hip. A deep dimple creases soft white flesh overhanging the knickers. Golden fuzz coats her sturdy legs.
Rather do that than end up married to Bunk.
Rate you’re going, you’ll end up an old maid.
A fussy frump then. In her blue lisle stockings. Her face like a lastyear apple, a witch’s nose touching her witch’s chin. End up a schoolmarm with a stick body and claws for hands — children running away from her, boys making stink bombs and shooting spit balls at her A is for apple over and over on the blackboard until she died. But she’s not going to make herself all fluffy and cushy like Netty does.
Quartermain’s poetic language is grounded in some traditional CanLit territory, like the the depression-era prairie setting, the suffocating small town, and the outsiders up against the strict values of the establishment. But it’s the departures from the expected that make the story so rich. The two narrators aren’t at all who or what I expected them to be. Continue reading