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The Lesser Blessed

by Richard Van Camp

Richard Van Camp’s The Lesser Blessed is Bildungsroman as holocaust, Holden Caulfield with sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Set in the aptly named fictional community of Fort Simmer, N.W.T., it tells the story of a few months in the life of Larry Sole, a Dogrib Indian teenager who has some serious skeletons in his closet.

Larry loves Juliet Hope, the self-described high school whore; he admires and befriends the exciting but dangerous rebel Johnny Beck; and he hopes his mother, Verna, who is studying to become a teacher, will work out her relationship with her boyfriend (and Larry’s idol), Jed, a “Slavey” firefighter. Larry also smokes hash, listens to loud, lovingly detailed rock & roll, and gets initiated into the brutal circle of scrappers in his school. More importantly, he attempts both to repress and to make sense of a tragically violent incident in his past. It is his attempt to evade and finally to confront this terror that forms the narrative core of the book.

This is not a novel for the faint of heart. The language is rough, the emotional landscape stark and barren: children’s lives are depicted as one slow burn on the altar of their parents’ failure to nurture. Van Camp successfully evokes the strange twilit feeling of this world, and refuses to do so without offering glimpses of redemption, primarily in the different kinds of love offered by Jed and Juliet.

Although the writing is in places startingly original, and the story completely compelling, the novel is not without its purple patches. In addition, the mysterious event in Larry’s past, although presented from a number of angles, is never made entirely clear. Nor do we understand Larry’s attitude towards his own capacity for violence: this leads to a frustrating lack of affect, at times, in a character who is otherwise entirely sensitive and likeable. Similarly, the character of Verna, Larry’s mother, remains shadowy and underwritten.

These aspects of the book are, I suspect, simply due to its author’s youth, a quality which gives the writing its otherwise unnerving credibility. Richard Van Camp is a writer to watch; this novel, like all challenging fiction, is filled with awful, unavoidable truth.


Reviewer: Hume Baugh

Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre


Price: $18.95

Page Count: 144 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-55054-525-6

Released: Oct.

Issue Date: 1996-10

Categories: Fiction: Novels