When I picked this up from the used book sale at Grace General Hospital I couldn't remember if I'd read it. It was published back in the 70s. So chances were that I had. I know I've owned and passed along through BookCrossing many of Kinsella's books although many of them unread. But it was his recent medically assisted death, a death on his own terms, that made me want to read something by Kinsella now. I chose this, his first book.
The stories in Dance Me Outside, all narrated by Silas Ermineskin, relating tales of life on the Hobbema Indian Reserve seemed familiar to me but I couldn't swear that I'd read them before. But if I had, I would say that stories such as these are why I have come to love short stories in general. I loved these stories.
What I definitely did not remember and what irritated me as I read, so much so that I think I would have remembered, is the strange syntax Kinsella uses to capture the "Indian" voice. This voice comes across as uneducated and childlike, albeit also amusing. I had to wonder why I recognized it as that voice. No indigenous person has ever spoken to me that way. Not now, not in the 70s or, that I remember, when we were children. It is however much like the voice portrayed in the old cowboys and Indians movies that I watched as a child, none of which were likely produced by indigenous people. Kinsella is not indigenous either. So I can understand why as one reviewer of the film adapted from the titular story from this book said "Kinsella is the man that some Indians love to hate." At the same time though, I have to say that I really liked Silas, his friends and family. I was reminded of something Tomson Highway said about why he had written The Rez Sisters. He said he wanted "to make the Rez cool. To show and celebrate what funky folk Canada's Indian people really are." Kinsella might not have had the same authority that Tomson Highway has, but his rez folk are pretty cool too.
Most reviews of the book describe the stories as being humorous. Indeed the cover blurb suggests that Kinsella's stories "are extremely funny". And I found them so too. Especially when Silas and his cohorts are having fun at the expense of the white man, (sister Illianna's husband and the RCMP for example). In fact it is particularly amusing that whenever the white man shows up suddenly no one on the reserve speaks English very well.
For all that the stories are funny, they are also very moving and telling of the poverty and racism endured by indigenous people living on and off the reserve. I could quite understand why in the story "Longhouse", Poppy Twelvetrees wanted off the reserve but yet I would worry about her if she managed to leave.
Regardless of whether Kinsella "ought" to be writing in an indigenous voice, his Silas Ermineskin is one hell of a story teller.
Released 4 mos ago (7/5/2017 UTC) at Alexander Docks in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada
WILD RELEASE NOTES:
This book was released as part of the 2017 Canada Day Release challenge in celebration of Canadian books and authors and Canada's 150th birthday.
I left it on the giant driftwood tree at the now-closed dock. A young man was seated on this tree closer to the river and he was immersed in his guitar playing. I don't think he was even conscious of my presence. From the looks of his various belongings near at hand, I'm guessing that he spends a good deal of time enjoying this place. Hopefully the book I left will give him some further enjoyment.
To the finder of this book:
I hope you enjoy your new read.
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