The Red Rock Chronicles
Review by Brett Josef Grubisic
September 28, 2022
With chapters that share titles with huge seventies radio hits by the likes of ABBA, Kenny Rogers, Nick Gilder, and Captain & Tennille, My Indian Summer appears to point readers in the direction of a wholly feel-good feast of nostalgia.
While first-time novelist Joseph Kakwinokanasum certainly knows that decade’s signifiers—from feathered hair and Acapulco Gold to Saturday Night Fever outfits and a character nicknamed “Disco”—his backwards glance mixes the sweet and the astringent, the grin-inducing with the poignant and discomfiting. Sure, at moments—say, at the image of boyhood friends riding bikes, scavenging pop bottles, and gorging on candy from a corner store run by a kindhearted neighbour—readers may feel the reassuring pull of the supposedly carefree past. In Kakwinokanasum’s story, though, there’s misery in copious amounts at home and danger on the streets; and the future is anything but bright. We may wish for the possibility of a pure, summery nostalgia for Hunter, the author’s immensely likeable and dogged protagonist. In the Sooke, BC resident’s tale unadulterated bliss isn’t altogether realistic.
Following an epilogue in which fearful and infuriated single mom Margarette flees Edmonton with her three young children (“No fucking way is that animal going to take my kids,” she tells her sister), My Indian Summer opens in late August, 1979. Locals and visitors alike are gearing up for the Annual Red Rock Labour Day Weekend, in a northern BC town near Dawson Creek, “where three hundred farmers, Natives, and war vets lived in relative harmony.”
Margarette’s eldest children have since grown. Unhappy at home and in Red Rock, Deb has recently caught a southbound bus to Vancouver. She left Hunter, the youngest, with a Stephen King paperback and useful advice of the ‘save your own skin’ variety. Characterized as hotheaded, angry, and violent, elder son Noah now works as a firefighter. Whenever home, he spits on Hunter, calls him “retard” and “faggot,” and threatens another beating if Hunter does not clean a house regularly strewn with Margarette’s party debris. Kakwinokanasum introduces Margarette as generally furious; she’s also impatient, selfish, a heavy drinker, inclined toward violence, an indifferent parent, and, frequently, altogether absent.
“Apihtawikosisan,” Hunter’s mother calls her youngest, “Half-breed.” Throughout the novel, Hunter’s limited Cree vocabulary is emblematic: aside from “Apihtawikosisan,” he’s familiar with “mukwey emitsook” (“no food”) and “mukwey soniyaw” (“no money”). With a woodsman named Crow and three caring elders who run a business that Hunter frequents, Kakwinokanasum indicates how broader communal parenting supplies Hunter with alternatives to what he’s experienced and learned at home.
Early in My Indian Summer it’s possible to discern Kakwinokanasum’s literary antecedents, whether the early fiction of Eden Robinson or novels by Richard Wagamese, Katherena Vermette, or Tomson Highway. Interestingly, Kakwinokanasum makes the most architectural use of Deb’s gift to Hunter: Night Shift, a story collection King published shortly before The Body, a novella best known for being adapted into Stand By Me. If Hunter and his friends bring to mind the squabbling, adventuresome boys of Stand By Me, Kakwinokanasum portrays Red Rock, BC (some 4500 km from King’s setting of Castle Rock, Maine) distinctly, with an eye attentive to time, place, and cultural milieu.
Read the full review at The British Columbia Review.