Richard Van Camp, 196 pgs, Enfield & Wizenty, greatplains.mb.ca, $19.95
It would almost be wrong to call the wonder of Richard Van Camp’s short stories “magical realism” or “surrealism,” comparing them to literary traditions rooted in campesino South America and the salons of Europe. Rather, the day-to-day medicines, predictions, and rituals of the Dogrib and other Indigenous characters are an intuitive and foundational force in Night Moves, as unquestionable as they are native to the Northwest Territories, where the book takes place.
The short story collection expands on the people and places of Fort Smith that Van Camp introduces in his other books, and certainly they consistently feel bigger than themselves, bursting with pasts, futures, and unmentioned relationships. As a first-time reader, I also delighted in finding where themes and characters overlap and speak to each other within the book. Although there are elders and adults taking protagonist role, the most profound moments come from young people. These are the strongest stories: the alienated visiting student with a secret agenda of revenge, the young fighter with animal rage who abandons his sinister mentors, and the heartwrenching opening story “bornagirl,” narrated by the perpetrator of a transphobic assault.
Indeed, queer and feminist undertones also course through the book alongside post-colonial critique, as Van Camp takes up complex issues of human trafficking, sexual abuse, gender identity and sexuality.
Van Camp’s artistry and the compelling cultural landscape of the Indigenous north come together in unsettling, beautiful, and fantastical ways here. Night Moves is an absolute success. (Jonathan Valelly)