Many authors are known for just one type of fiction, but not Richard Van Camp. The award-winning novelist also pens comics, TV scripts (CBC’s ‘North of 60’), and is an internationally renowned storyteller. Steeped in the oral traditions of his people, the Tlicho (Tłı̨chǫ) of the Dene First Nations, Van Camp’s storyteller’s voice is wonderfully evident in his highly recommended short story collection, Moccasin Square Gardens.
Set primarily in the Northwest Territories, or Denedeh, Moccasin Square Gardens vividly evokes the rhythms and characters of small-town life ‘north of 60’. While some tales bring to mind Stephen Leacock or Stuart McLean, those comparisons fail to capture the dazzling range of themes and genres in this collection. Family discord and reconciliation, environmental degradation, sexuality, fantasy, mythology, and even a smattering of horror is all found here. Yet, even the darker stories are permeated with the author’s optimism and sense of humour.
Moccasin Square Gardens opens with ‘Aliens’, a lyrical tale of budding romance and two-spirit identity. In ‘Man Babies’, a resourceful park ranger confronts the lay-about, videogame-obsessed son of the woman he’s considering moving in with. In ‘Super Indians’, an embezzling band chief is hilariously held to account at a community sports day. In the haunting ‘I Am Filled with a Trembling Light’, the social ills of addiction and abuse are explored when a dying man tries to reclaim the home his father has lost to gambling debts.
The outliers in the collection are the two ‘Wheetago War’ stories. Van Camp, a fan of Star Wars who also writes graphic novels, combines Indigenous myth and popular culture in the form of Zombie-like Wheetago monsters, brought back to life by global warming.
It’s a cliché, but this clear-eyed, emotion-filled collection will have you laughing and crying, while at the same time contemplating questions of Indigenous and Canadian history and culture.
Richmond Public is offering a free, online discussion of Moccasin Square Gardens on July 29th, from 10:30 to 11:30am, on Zoom. To register, visit www.yourlibrary.ca/events-calendar/ and search for ‘adult summer reading’, or phone 604-231-6413.