Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese
I finished reading Richard Wagamese’s ‘Medicine Walk’ yesterday. It is an excellent book, but I found things to criticize, and feel it is not kosher to critique a first nations writer, especially one who has passed away. So I may not post all of my thoughts. But then that might be considered a lie, a pandering, or a sycophantic approach to Canadian literature. I will consider it.
I liked the story. The violence was a little harsh, and this led to my first criticism. The character Eldon drinks, to excess. But the violence almost is set up to give him an excuse. He lost his father to the war. And then he killed his friend Jimmy on the battlefield of Korea. And so he drank. And then he couldn’t take the pressure of being a father, so he drank. And his wife died in childbirth, because he was drinking, so he drank some more. Excuses. Good excuses, but excuses none the less.
The lack of education and the glorifying of it. I wished that Frank had been a little more intelligent, a little more articulate, a little more relate-able. I had trouble empathizing with him. I am a fan of close third person narrative where the reader comes to experience the characters feelings. Frank is the ‘strong silent’ type and doesn’t let the reader close. He was a bit of a cold pill. Sad.
And the scenes where his father described meeting and falling in love with his mother, I felt, were off. The narrator in those parts is not Eldon, it is someone much more erudite, much more articulate and educated and well spoken. I think we should have seen the struggle of Eldon to put those scenes into words. But Wagamese gave Eldon a voice he did not have. It bumped me out of the narrative. As did the explicit sex, I couldn’t see a father talking to his son about sex with his mother that way. I think he should have taken more time to explore the love angle, and less on the sex.
Here I thought a reading of Tolstoy would help the author describe love, as Anna and Vronski’s love was described. But a comparison to ‘Anna Karenina’ might be an unfair one.
For some reason, the descriptions of fishing bothered me. He made it sound too easy to catch trout and lost the sense of authenticity. Putting a baited line in the water and coming back in the morning to fresh trout doesn’t match my experience with trout fishing. But that is a minor quibble.
It is a beautifully written book and the descriptions are wonderful. I could see the forests, the mountains and streams. I did laugh at one spot where Frank looks over the valley and sees a deer, and an eagle, and a bear at the same time. That was so improbable to make me laugh.
And the lack of laughter and fun. Some simple joy. I think the book could use some of that.
The lack of appreciation of education I felt. Why did the old man not encourage Frank in learning and reading? And how did one man run a farm and raise a baby? I found that hard to believe.
So, my review here is veering towards harsh. Should I tone it down? It would not be politically correct in Canada right now. To hell with it, honesty is best, especially for writers learning to write, and that is who I write these critiques for.
March 7, 2021, 2021
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Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese