This blog post is part of an author spotlight series on Indigenous authors for #Canada150. Click here to view all posts.
Where do I even begin with the amazing work of Eden Robinson?
Eden Robinson is a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations. She grew up in Haisla territory near Kitamaat village on the central coast of British Columbia. Her work is primarily centred in the area she grew up in and references the forests and ocean shoreline near Kitamaat.
Robinson first appeared on the literary scene with the short story collection Traplines in 1996. It got a lot of attention and when Monkey Beach appeared on the scene four years later, Canadian Literature collectively lost their mind. This is the book Robinson is most known for as it was nominated for the 2000 Scotiabank Giller Prize, one of Canada’s biggest literary awards, and won the 2001 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize which is awarded annually to the best work of fiction by a BC or Yukon resident. Monkey Beach is routinely taught in high schools and universities around the country and is listed on CBC Books 100 Novels That Make Your Proud to Be Canadian.
Robinson then went on to publish Blood Sports in 2006, a dark tale of struggle and a cat-and-mouse relationship between two cousins set in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. In 2011, she published Sasquatch at Home: Traditional Protocols & Modern Storytelling, part collection of essays on writing, part memoir. And just this past February, she returned once more with a long anticipated book, Son of a Trickster, the first in a YA fantasy trilogy.
The first piece of writing I ever read by Eden Robinson actually wasn’t one of her novels, but a short story, “Terminal Avenue,” that was published in the anthology So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy. In “Terminal Avenue” Robinson tells a story of a future Vancouver where Indigenous people are registered by the police and restricted from entering certain parts of the city. It’s a story that hit particularly hard to home and possibility with the realities of police brutality, the Canadian justice system, the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the prison system, and the legacy of Canada’s colonial history of genocide against Indigenous people. Even as it breaks you, “Terminal Avenue” beautifully draws the reader in in a short few pages.
Robinson is a writer who excels in creating beautiful, impactful imagery, particularly in relation to the land. I grew up in various different areas BC, particularly on the coast and the lower mainland before moving into the interior. And even when Robinson writes about areas I’ve never been to I feel like I am there thanks to her writing. Between my memories and her words I can taste the salt of the Pacific, walk the sidewalks of Hasting Street, smell the tang of cedar trees, trace the outline of the horizon where the sky meets the ocean, lean back under the bulk of the mountains. I go home when I read her books after having lived away from BC for so long.
After reading “Terminal Avenue” I decided to pick up Monkey Beach for CanLit Bingo 2016. It turned out to be one of the best reading decisions I made as it was one of the best books I read in 2016. Monkey Beach is a story of growing up, loss, community, living myths and legends. The narrative weaves between past as present as Lisamarie remembers her childhood growing up in Kitamaat as she journeys by speedboat up the Douglas Channel looking for her brother’s body who died by drowning.
In as much as she excels in description and imagery, Robinson is also a writer who is able to craft incredible characters. Although Monkey Beach has beautiful descriptions of the land, it’s truly the characters and their relationships that draw the reader in. Monkey Beach is the story of a family and community, all circling and coming together in relation to each other.
When I heard that Robinson was coming out with a new novel, Son of a Trickster, I was super excited. I wasn’t sure how she was going to handle the transition from literary fiction to YA, but grabbed it from the library the moment I saw it on the shelf. Son of a Trickster is a hilarious read. It’s dark in parts, following Jared who’s a teenage pothead as he struggles with his divorced parents, his family falling apart, falling in love, getting into trouble. But even in the darkest moments Robinson’s writing and humour shines through. Her ability to write compelling characters has really expanded and the dialogue is fantastic. I’ve never read a book where dialogue read exactly how people would speak or that made me laugh so much. Robinson is fantastic at writing teen characters and I really hope this book gets picked up by the larger YA community outside of Canada.
Although I haven’t read Traplines, Blood Sports or Sasquatch at Home yet, Robinson is very much one of my favourite authors and I plan on reading everything she’s written and her books to come.
If you’re interested I also recommend checking out some of the recent interviews she’s done about Son of a Trickster on CBC The Next Chapter, CBC Unreserved, and the CBC Unreserved Indigenous Reads Panel discussion on Son of a Trickster. She talks about her writing process, oral storytelling, and how she managed to get into the mindset of a teenage boy to write Jared.