Reviews

Notes on Navigation

KELSEA O'CONNOR

This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (House of Anansi) is a sharp collection of short stories and poetry that resists the colonialism of contemporary Canada and explores the struggle of urban Indigenous people to preserve tradition in a continuously changing environment. The interwoven stories are stream-of-consciousness first person, often epistolary, addressing a changing “you” to whom the speaker relates their insecurities of self, frustrations with an ever-encroaching white society and loss of traditional culture. Kwe is the central character of the stories: in one, she is getting her firearm licence in rural Ontario; in another, she’s coaching the narrator into meeting their long-distance partner; in another, she steals a disused canoe. Simpson’s anger is more forceful in the poems. The most memorable for me was “i am graffiti,” in which she confronts the attempted erasure of First Nations genocide. Several of the stories depict the stress of navigation: navigating the tensions of race and colonialism, navigating the ancestral land despite contemporary infrastructure, and navigating relationships via text messaging. Highlighting this are scenes of characters fighting to practice traditions in spaces they have been pushed out of: tapping for maple syrup in a white upper middle-class neighbourhood; harvesting wild rice in cottage country; drinking kombucha flavoured with maple and blueberry (“sometimes stolen Nishnaabeg things are better than no Nishnaabeg things at all!!”). My favourite story in the collection is “Big Water,” which combines the stress of modern text communication (“I look at my beloved screen every four minutes… We all do and we all lie about it”) and the urgency of environmental damage: the flooding Lake Ontario is personified as Niibish, who demands attention by texting the narrator in all caps as she reshapes the earth. What I enjoyed most about Simpson’s book was her quiet, lyrical storytelling and the collective voice that swept me up in the reading.

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KELSEA O'CONNOR

Kelsea O’Connor is contributing editor to Geist. She lives in New Westminster.


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