Richard Van Camp’s The Lesser Blessed is Bildungsroman as holocaust, Holden Caulfield with sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Set in the aptly named fictional community of Fort Simmer, N.W.T., it tells the story of a few months in the life of Larry Sole, a Dogrib Indian teenager who has some serious skeletons in his closet.
Larry loves Juliet Hope, the self-described high school whore; he admires and befriends the exciting but dangerous rebel Johnny Beck; and he hopes his mother, Verna, who is studying to become a teacher, will work out her relationship with her boyfriend (and Larry’s idol), Jed, a “Slavey” firefighter. Larry also smokes hash, listens to loud, lovingly detailed rock & roll, and gets initiated into the brutal circle of scrappers in his school. More importantly, he attempts both to repress and to make sense of a tragically violent incident in his past. It is his attempt to evade and finally to confront this terror that forms the narrative core of the book.
This is not a novel for the faint of heart. The language is rough, the emotional landscape stark and barren: children’s lives are depicted as one slow burn on the altar of their parents’ failure to nurture. Van Camp successfully evokes the strange twilit feeling of this world, and refuses to do so without offering glimpses of redemption, primarily in the different kinds of love offered by Jed and Juliet.
Although the writing is in places startingly original, and the story completely compelling, the novel is not without its purple patches. In addition, the mysterious event in Larry’s past, although presented from a number of angles, is never made entirely clear. Nor do we understand Larry’s attitude towards his own capacity for violence: this leads to a frustrating lack of affect, at times, in a character who is otherwise entirely sensitive and likeable. Similarly, the character of Verna, Larry’s mother, remains shadowy and underwritten.
These aspects of the book are, I suspect, simply due to its author’s youth, a quality which gives the writing its otherwise unnerving credibility. Richard Van Camp is a writer to watch; this novel, like all challenging fiction, is filled with awful, unavoidable truth.
A fresh, funny look at growing up Native in the North, by award-winning author Richard Van Camp.
Larry is a Dogrib Indian growing up in the small northern town of Fort Simmer. His tongue, his hallucinations and his fantasies are hotter than the sun. At sixteen, he loves Iron Maiden, the North and Juliet Hope, the high school "tramp." When Johnny Beck, a Metis from Hay RiverA fresh, funny look at growing up Native in the North, by award-winning author Richard Van Camp.
Larry is a Dogrib Indian growing up in the small northern town of Fort Simmer. His tongue, his hallucinations and his fantasies are hotter than the sun. At sixteen, he loves Iron Maiden, the North and Juliet Hope, the high school "tramp." When Johnny Beck, a Metis from Hay River, moves to town, Larry is ready for almost anything.
In this powerful and often very funny first novel, Richard Van Camp gives us one of the most original teenage characters in fiction. Skinny as spaghetti, nervy and self-deprecating, Larry is an appealing mixture of bravado and vulnerability. His past holds many terrors: an abusive father, blackouts from sniffing gasoline, an accident that killed several of his cousins. But through his friendship with Johnny, he’s ready now to face his memories—and his future.
Marking the debut of an exciting new writer, The Lesser Blessed is an eye-opening depiction of what it is to be a young Native man in the age of AIDS, disillusionment with Catholicism and a growing world consciousness.
A coming-of-age story that any fan of The Catcher in the Rye will enjoy....more
Paperback, 128 pages
Published April 6th 2004 by Douglas & McIntyre (first published 1996)