by Deborah Rogers –
Richard Wagamese was an incredible writer and speaker, and our book club thoroughly appreciated getting to know some of his words this month. Our book for discussion, Medicine Walk, was published in 2014, and was his last novel. Several of those who joined our meeting had had the good fortune to have seen Wagamese speak, and we enjoyed hearing their recollections.
Medicine Walk is a slim novel that covers a short time period, yet contains within it beautiful, poetic descriptions of the land, and a devastating narrative tale of loss and redemption. The story is of a teenage boy who is asked by his father to take him on a final journey. The son, Franklin, has been raised by another man; the father, Eldon, has been largely absent from his life. As we follow the two on their short journey to a sacred place, we hear Eldon explain for the first time the story of his life and how he came to be the abusive, neglectful father that Franklin knows.
Our readers discussed the way that storytelling is used as a form of therapy. Eldon’s unburdening allows him a moment of peace after a tortured life. We pondered how the writer’s own experiences of having been abused, and raised apart from his family, would have influenced the characters. And we reflected on the essential fact that people need to know where they come from; Franklin’s late discovery of who his mother was, and why he was raised by another man, was a terrible burden for him. The topic of reconciliation is never far from mind when reading this book. Intentional or not, the very notion of whether reconciliation is possible is deeply rooted in the story. Can damage be undone? Is forgiveness possible or desirable? How can you move forward after a deep harm is done to you? It is the writer’s deftness that means we can ponder these questions without the book feeling overwhelmingly heavy.
We also reflected on the tremendous sense of place in the book. Our members who have lived or travelled in the B.C. interior found the writing took them right back there. The poetry in the language, the authentic dialogue and the layered characters made this a wonderful read for our group.
Book Club meets next on Tuesday May 11, 6:30 p.m via Zoom to discuss The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman. You need to join our email list in order to get the Zoom invite: seasidemagazine.ca/book-club/.