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Day of the Dog-tooth Violets

by Christina Kilbourne

The list of chapter titles in Ontario writer Christina Kilbourne’s debut novel reads like a poem: “Salted Fish, Smoked Fish, Pickled Fish”; “A Successful Excursion”; “Bad Eyes, A Son for Hamar.” That poetic sensibility carries through much of the narrative of Day of the Dog-tooth Violets, in which Nan, a mother of two, discovers her own recently deceased mother was part Chippewa.

Using flashbacks and shifting points of view, Kilbourne unfolds not only Nan’s story, but also the story of Gunner, Nan’s childhood friend. In remembering Gunner, son of a Chippewa mother and Norwegian father, Nan hopes to explain her own heritage to herself and to her young sons. Kilbourne lets the narrative stretch back to include the stories of Winnie, Gunner’s mother, and of Hamar, his father.

Winnie is the most fascinating character here, and the reader longs for more about her, what she thought and felt about the turns her life took. The novel’s structure, however, skims the surface of too many lives, often leaving the characters feeling unfinished, stillborn. For instance, the pony Nan loved as a child is never given a name – nor is Nan’s husband. Her sons seem to exist as devices for receiving Gunner’s story, rather than as fully realized characters who need to learn about Gunner in order to appreciate their own identities. Nan’s grieving father, too, exists mainly off stage and adds little to the story. Gunner fares slightly better; Kilbourne lets readers inside his head occasionally, and he is certainly a compelling character.

Kilbourne is a talented writer, with a facility for language and an intriguing story that begs to be fully told. Day of the Dog-tooth Violets, however, is not quite ready to bloom as a novel.


Reviewer: Stephanie Domet

Publisher: Broken Jaw Press


Price: $17.76

Page Count: 200 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-896647-44-8

Released: June

Issue Date: 2001-7

Categories: Fiction: Novels