Continuing my book reviews for writers with a critique of ‘Five Little Indians’ by Michelle Good. I compare it to ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte. They are both stories of people treated poorly, either by fate or by the government. Meanness and cruelty. People persevere. In ‘Five Little Indians’, some make it through the horror with scars, but are able to carry on. Others cannot, and self destruct. And some nearly self destruct but avert disaster.
Good doesn’t sugarcoat the abuse, but much like the book in the same vein, ‘Indian Horse’ by Richard Wagamese, the real horrors are only alluded to.
My knock on ‘Five Little Indians’ is the same as against ‘Jane Eyre’. There is a literary device called ‘Deus ex machina’, used by the Greek playwrights two thousand years ago, which translates to ‘God in the machine’, where unsolvable problems are resolved by some outside event that is improbable at best. Jane Eyre inherits a fortune from a long-lost uncle, Lucy inherits a life insurance policy. Happy endings all around.
The book revolves around five characters who are all scarred by the residential schools. That one goes to prison for beating the priest doesn’t surprise me. I am amazed that doesn’t happen more and am reminded of the movie with Robert De Niro ‘Sleepers’ where abused boys murder their abuser. I found some of the character frustrating and didn’t quite understand the motivations of Clara to smuggle guns. Again, she nearly self destructs.
This book by Michelle Good is a hard read at times. We live in a time where White Privilege is being replaced by Collective guilt at the wrongs by previous governments. With such potent emotions conjured up, it is hard to see solutions. But understanding the history, the past wrongs, and the affects on people, survivors, is an important first step. That this education can happen through literature such as ‘Five Little Indians’, “Indian Horse’, or other stories is a good way to advance the discussion.
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June 9, 2023