Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

A Quality of Light

by Richard Wagamese

In his second novel, Ojibwe author Richard Wagamese, a National Newspaper Award-winning journalist before his turn to fiction, creates a metaphor for Canada’s treatment of its aboriginal inhabitants. A Quality of Light offers a complicated history of two characters with very different cosmologies. There is anger and recrimination on both sides, and a soul-shaking incident writ large enough to evoke the tensions of Oka, Gustafsen Lake, and Ipperwash.

In this novel, Joshua Kane, an Ojibwe adopted at birth by a white farm couple, and Johnny Gebhardt, a white boy with a troubled past, become “blood brothers” in a boyhood ritual. When the boys become men things get serious: police, hostages, an armed standoff at an Indian Affairs office. This is a clever book that weaves an intricate argument about identity politics and cultural appropriation even as it skewers book-bred new-age mysticism and/or militancy packaged as aboriginal “tradition.” Wagamese transposes voice in a most surprising way, fiddling with readers’ assumptions and expectations, and he displays a fine sense of irony in the process.

In a subtle poke at W.P. Kinsella and M.T. Kelly – white authors who have used aboriginal voice in their novels – Wagamese adopts baseball (Kinsella’s domain) and hostage taking (Kelly’s construct in A Dream Like Mine) as major plot developments. He eschews the elliptical style favoured by many aboriginal writers, and the book hums merrily along its linear plot path. There are relatively few shortcomings: some minor characters are one-
dimensional; the dialogue is occasionally stilted. But Wagamese still manages to demystify the fictions we all create in order to tame our demons, and to debunk the myths perpetuated by non-aboriginal “experts” with their own ideas of aboriginal reality.