Queen’s Reads is The Break you need

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Novel brings the lives of Métis people in Winnipeg to campus

The Break is about of a Metis family grappling with intergenerational trauma and growth. 

After being scrapped for a few years, Queen’s Reads is back with a page-turner.

Queen’s Reads is a community reading program that attempts to engage students on campus with themes and ideas they may not have previously encountered. Every year, the book chosen by Queen’s Reads is distributed free of charge on campus at a variety of locations.

This year’s novel selection —Katherena Vermette’s The Break — is an evocative portrayal of a Métis family grappling with intergenerational trauma and growth. 

At first glance, the novel is about a sexual assault survivor and how her family comes together to support her. As well as being a tale of familial allegiance, the novel also touches on the issues of gang violence present in the North End of Winnipeg — the area in which Vermette spent her childhood. 

The crux of the novel deals with women of the older generations, the aunts and grandmother of Emily the survivor, realizing they haven’t protected this new generation from the cycle of pain and violence activated by the introduction of residential schools. 

Within The Break, Vermette attempts to show the ways coping mechanisms can both cause and mend the pain in our lives. 

Many of the characters have disturbing pasts, but it’s the principal characters who deal with the pain by laughing and loving. 

Despite their example, many others around them have fallen victim to the easier ways of dealing with their reality by way of alcohol and drug use — something Vermette warns against.  

Generational violence underlies the plot surrounding Emily. It’s the residential schools and abusive priests, only briefly mentioned in the novel, that drives the eldest characters into the cycle of substance abuse and impossible decisions that lead to their unstable situations and to further trauma.

Considering the subject matter it would be easy to place the blame at someone’s feet, but Vermette avoids sensationalizing the pain and suffering of her characters. Instead, she shows the reality of racism that many Métis face and that disinterested authorities often ignore. 

Also, Vermette demonstrates the disastrous effects of others reducing the characters to one aspect of their identity which perpetuates the social ills present in the North End of Winnipeg. 

Within the novel, characters are defined by single actions without consideration of the complex result of social factors which leads them to involvement with substance use, gang brutality or violent behaviour. 

Vermette uses the backdrop of the family and their response to the violence in their surroundings to show that cases of murdered Indigenous women presented in the media show more than just victims, they show human beings with all the accompanying strengths and weaknesses. 

Stylistically, this novel is nothing new; it’s a pretty typical example of Canadian literature. Many have read a multigenerational family saga about hardships and the like before. But it’s the way Vermette uses the medium to generate the feeling of a conversation between a mother and her child, providing comfort despite its subject matter, that makes one keep turning the pages. 

The newest selection of Queen’s Reads provides a compelling look into the lives of a group of Métis women and shows the power of their resiliency. 

 

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