Wednesday, December 20, 2023

A Grandmother Begins the Story

A Grandmother Begins the Story
  A Grandmother Begins the Story
Author:  Michelle Porter
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2023. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1643755188 / 978-1643755182

Rating:   ★★★

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I had my choice down there, didn't I?"

Favorite Quote:  "People get themselves ready to die. They start going through their memories and bringing out their stories one by one as if there was a photo album in their head and they've got to get through it before leaving. They want to move those stories around, make them mean something. They want it all to mean something. For some people, they can't stand the meaning of their lives and they think they can make up for it real quick at the end. It's like they reach out to grab what isn't theirs to take."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Mamé. Genevieve. Lucie. Allie. Carter. Five generations of Métis women. Five generations of one family. Five mothers. Each one is telling her story. Mamé is in the afterlife. Genevieve checks herself into rehab for an alcohol addiction. Lucie says she wants to die and wants help in accomplishing that goal. Allie has a lifetime of unresolved issues with her mother. Carter has an adopted family and this is her birth family. She is a mother herself to a little boy named Tucker. She is also the one Lucie asks for help.

Then, there is Dee, the female bison.

This book gives voice to the individual stories of these women - including Dee. Turn by turn, in short chapter, each woman's story comes forth. Interspaced are the voices of others - the land especially as a living, breathing organism with its own story to tell. 

Each woman and her story is distinct and unique. It takes a bit to distinguish, but, despite the varied voices and the frequent change between the voices, I can follow the thread of each narrative.

The narration reads as a story being told. "Different ways to tell a story. Some tellers make a noise to announce the coming of the story for get someone else to call everyone's attention. Some wait for people to gather around, for the quiet to settle. Others just begin. They don't wait for everyone to lean in - that'll happen soon enough. They don't speak loudly or even want everyone to hear. Those that hear are the ones the story was meant for."

This is in keeping with the author's background in poetry and as a Métis storyteller. The Métis are an indigenous people, particularly in Northwest Canada. The word métis comes from French and indicates a person of mixed parentage. In this context, the Métis descent from a combination indigenous and Euro-American ancestry.

The book description states it is "written like a crooked Métis jig." I had to research what a crooked jig is. According to the dictionary, a "jig" is a lively dance or the music that is danced to. As we know, traditional music is written in a pattern. What makes a "jig" crooked is that the pattern is broken - with notes or bars omitted or added to. That helps me further understand this book. The story jumps from woman to woman. With that, it jumps through time and the generation. The chapter from the perspective of the land or other such facet of the story adds further crookedness.

The jarring note in these stories is the abundant use of cursing and a significant focus on sex and the men. Several of these women (including the bison!) make poor choices in their lives, particularly where men are concerned. I do not know if there is a cultural or personal history embedded there, but that theme is perhaps the lasting impression of what this book is about.

However, the "what" of this story fades in comparison to the "how" and the melody of this crooked jig. It is a fascinating introduction to Métis storytelling and this author's debut work of fiction.

About the Book

Award-winning author Michelle Porter makes her fiction debut with an enchanting and original story of the unrivaled desire for healing and the power of familial bonds across five generations of Métis women and the land and bison that surround them.

Written like a crooked Métis jig, A Grandmother Begins the Story follows five generations of women and bison as they reach for the stories that could remake their worlds and rebuild their futures.

Carter is a young mother, recently separated. She is curious, angry, and on a quest to find out what the heritage she only learned of in her teens truly means.
Allie, Carter's mother, is trying to make up for the lost years with her first born, and to protect Carter from the hurt she herself suffered from her own mother. Lucie wants the granddaughter she's never met to help her join her ancestors in the Afterlife. And Geneviève is determined to conquer her demons before the fire inside burns her up, with the help of the sister she lost but has never been without. Meanwhile, Mamé, in the Afterlife, knows that all their stories began with her; she must find a way to cut herself from the last threads that keep her tethered to the living, just as they must find their own paths forward.

This extraordinary novel, told by a chorus of vividly realized, funny, wise, confused, struggling characters—including descendants of the bison that once freely roamed the land—heralds the arrival of a stunning new voice in literary fiction.

About the Author

Michelle Porter is the descendent of a long line of Métis storytellers. Many of her ancestors told stories using music and today she tells stories using the written word. Her newest book will be published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press this year. Called Scratching River, it’s a memoir that explores the meaning of her Métis heritage through her older brother’s life story. She’s also published a book of poetry, Inquiries (shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award for Best Book of Poetry in Canada in 2019), and a book of creative nonfiction about her great grandfather, a fiddler from the Red River, called Approaching Fire (shortlisted for the Indigenous Voices Award 2021). She’s the winner of the 2021 Cox & Palmer SPARKS Creative Writing Award. She holds degrees in Journalism (BA), Folklore (MA), English (MA) and Geography (PhD). Her academic research and creative work focus on home, memory, and women’s changing relationships with the land. She has won numerous awards for her poetry and journalism and her work has been published in literary journals and magazines across the country. Currently she is teaching creative writing and Métis Literature at Memorial University. She is a member of the Manitoba Métis Federation and she lives in Newfoundland and Labrador.

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