Richard Van Camp’s newest collection of short stories is in many ways a natural progression from his prior works. Again drawing on his Dogrib Nation background, he seamlessly blends the beauty, violence, and pride of Aboriginal life with brutally disarming prose.
Those acquainted with Van Camp’s earlier story collection, Angel Wing Splash Pattern, or his novel for young adults, The Lesser Blessed, will find familiar themes and subjects in this new book – disaffected youth, drugs, death, and sex – but also a profound sense of loss and the search for redemption. There are no easy solutions to the problems that Van Camp’s characters face, and the struggles those characters undergo become the basis for either personal growth or stagnation and failure.
And how spectacularly things go in either direction. When a drug-addled broadcaster makes a catastrophic on-air mistake, it means the destruction of his dreams. Conversely, an abused mother and her remaining son are protected by an elder’s traditions. Success in Van Camp’s stories is usually associated with earning respect and sympathy.
Despite the relative clarity of most of these stories, some are perplexingly arcane and metaphysical. In “I Count Myself Among Them,” for example, an unnamed man dies in a gruesome ritual performed by people who may or may not be more than what they seem, and the man may or may not be reborn – none of this is made explicit. Van Camp’s stories are typically accessible; the occasional ambiguity seems to result from failed experimentation rather than unintentional blunder.