I have to say, this book totally blew me away with its really strong narrative, literally whisking me away to a place that I have lived close to in Northern Ontario that I had a hard time to even take a breath, much less do anything else until I finished the book.
I had heard all of the buzz surrounding this particular book, but I am now a confirmed new fan to Joseph’s works. I will be looking for Three Day Road as well, the book he published before Through Black Spruce. It is also book two of a three book trilogy, where Three Day Road is the first book, but they are also stand alone books.
Will has been a Cree bush pilot for decades and finds himself in the hospital suffering from a coma. Annie, his niece has her own problems as well. Looking for her sister that succumbed to the modelling world and some of its perils is number one on her agenda. The family hasn’t heard from her in months, they are worried, and want to know if she is still alive. Something happened to her when she was in New York smoozing with people in the industry and all of the deals and plans they have for not only one another but themselves as well.
Will, Annie and the rest of the family come from a small northern Ontario community that is mostly inhabited by native people. They use snowmobiles in the winter to travel across the lake to other parts of the area, as well as hunt and fish. In this cold climate, the smell of black spruce, the wood burning stoves, and the problems of drugs and alcohol gives this book the authentic yet real problems that this and other communities face within the Native community.
As Will is laying in his coma, Anne comes to him to tell her story of how finding her sister is becoming a lost cause and how she feels about the whole situation – her sister, her boyfriend who is involved with drug dealing, and the modeling world may have added to her disappearance. Annie goes to Toronto where she started her modeling career where it then takes her to Montreal and then to New York. The rumours and conflicting stories don’t bode well for her sister she feels; and praying that she is safe somewhere, anywhere, so that she has enough time to find her.
Will in his own way is communicating how he ended up in this whole predicament – the persons who are responsible, the reason why. Will has other demons as well – alcohol, losing his wife and young child in a house fire shortly after being married all contribute to how he lives his life now, and the dreams still yet to be realized, with a woman who he has been friends with for years, but just got reconnected.
Rife with heartbreak, fierce love – for one another and others, ancient feuds that have gone on for years with no chance of reconciliation, along with the bonds that hold friends and family together are just impeccable.
I have to say that if I didn’t already know the area Joseph talks about in the novel I think it would have been a totally new experience of seeing it through his eyes for the first time; alas, since I do know the area, I can re imagine the sights and sounds of a small town far away from the nearest larger city, isolated with the cold Ontario winter howling in the background. The rich and storied cast of characters along with the storytelling will want you to savour this novel and then possibly re read it again to gain a different perspective each time you do.
Through Black Spruce won the Scotia Bank Giller Prize for 2008, CBA Libris Award for Fiction Book of the Year for 2009, and was long listed for the I.M.P.A.C Dublin Award in 2009