Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Edgy Van Camp melds traditional, contemporary

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Godless but Loyal to Heaven

By Richard Van Camp

Enfield & Wizenty, 188 pages, $30

B.C.-based writer Richard Van Camp successfully melds aboriginal traditions with a fictional contemporary North in his new short-story collection.

Van Camp, who is aboriginal himself and originally hails from the Northwest Territories, comes across as edgy and as transgressive as a James Frey or a Chuck Palahniuk.

The first of the 10 stories, Born a Girl, describes a struggle about a teenage boy violently coming to terms with his homosexuality.

Love Story showcases the art of storytelling by First Nations people. It focuses on "about how the Dogrib people came to be" and "when medicine power was the law and the way of the Dene people."

The story pairs the power of First Nations legends with modern situations, such as enduring the hardships of forbidden love, jealous rage and tragedy.

Tony Toenails is a playful story about how people come to get their nicknames.

The humorous Lizard People has some fun with the idea that there might be a sub-species of humans living among us, "and they're gearing up for a big strike."

The two more light-hearted pieces break up the mostly heavy subject matter they're sandwiched in between. But they feel more like filler stories to add girth to the collection.

The title story, Godless but Loyal to Heaven, is the beating pulse of Van Camp's latest offering and is by far the best and most memorable of the entries.

It follows underdog Torchy as he fights "for love and family in a bloody, cathartic and ultimately hopeful narrative."

It's a tale featuring unexpected twist and turns which still manage to be plausible.

Winnipeg's Great Plains Publications, which has released this book, has published Van Camp in the past.

Some of his stories offer glimpses into a much larger world. They will leave readers curious to what happens to his characters long after the book has been closed.

More important, in most of these stories Van Camp shows us that when we're put into difficult situations, it's the decisions we make in those moments that truly define our character.

Adam Petrash (@AdamPetrash) is a Winnipeg writer and a power engineer by trade.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 20, 2012 J9

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