by Deborah Rogers –
We were fortunate to get our hands on a Library Book Club set of Brian Thomas Isaac’s debut novel All the Quiet Places to discuss last month. Lucky because it was a book that provoked a long discussion, and lucky because Isaac was part of the incredible author line-up at the Sidney Literary Festival in April. All the Quiet Places is the story of a young Indigenous boy, Eddie Toma, growing up on the Okanagan Indian Reserve. We first meet Eddie as a six-year-old in 1956 and follow him through to his mid-teens.
Isaac says this book is fiction, but there is lots of his life in the story. One of the aspects of his writing that many of our group responded to were the detailed descriptions of Eddie’s surroundings. The writing takes you right there to the shabby house, the surrounding forest, the fast-flowing river and the road that leads off to town and school and the White world. Isaac shows us Eddie’s world with a child’s eye-view, observing everything that is going on around him but not judging it. For him it is normal to sleep on a bed with no blankets, to be expected to haul the wood in for the stove, to climb on the roof to fix a leak, and to have no electricity or running water in his home.
Presenting his life without comment, though, left some of our readers feeling detached from the story. It left the reader to do a lot of the work, determining how the characters were feeling, who was at fault and even what the meaning of the ending was. Eddie’s life seems precarious right from the start. The novel is unflinching in the way that we are shown how colonialism affected every single aspect of the characters’ lives. Trauma is woven through the storyline, but somehow Isaac resists pointing a finger of blame. Certainly, the adults in Eddie’s life are feckless and irresponsible, but it’s obvious that they are trapped in a system too.
There are parts of this book that will linger for a long time in our readers’ minds. Although this is his first novel, Isaac has always written poetry, and his ability to capture the young boy in his unique world is exceptionally beautiful.
Next month we are trying a different genre: we’ll be reading a thriller, The Survivors, by Jane Harper. There is a Book Club set of this title available from the Sidney/North Saanich Library; you can request to add your name to the waiting list. We’ll meet on Tuesday, May 16 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the Nell Horth Room at the library. Stay up to date with book club news: www.seasidemagazine.ca/book-club/.