July 7, 2020

16° C, Clear

Full Forecast


Advertise With Us

Dark look at rez life a must-read for Manitobans

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/11/2014 (2054 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Someone you love is dead. And you? You have to keep living.

The grinding ache of loss gets authentic, articulate expression in The Evolution of Alice, graphic novelist David Alexander Robertson's first "words only" novel.

Not that his characters would say it that way. In the easygoing language of everyday Manitobans, Robertson's cast of damaged people try to heal and help in the face of mortality.

Tragedy crashes into the rez trailer home where Alice is rebuilding life with her three daughters, her abusive partner temporarily secure in the Stony Mountain penitentiary. Withdrawing into a hollow ache, she faces a steep, seemingly impossible climb back to wholeness.

If that's an often-told story, it gets a fresh face here, thanks to the unpretentious, engaging voices the Winnipeg writer offers, which range from close friends to strangers breezing by scenes of personal wretchedness. The intersecting vignettes Robertson pulls in add a nice variety of perspectives for the reader to enjoy, even as they give a rounded vision of dealing with death.

Then there's the spooky intervention of the supernatural. Ghosts and spirits are just out of eyesight in the lives of Robertson's characters, hanging back in a playful darkness. Their motives and origins are questionable; the power of transformation they offer, tantalizing.

In these sections Robertson's skill with descriptive visual language is at its best. The mortal world is rendered in vivid, colour-loaded language (particularly the field stretching behind Alice's home), and while spiritual intrusions receive the same treatment, they're honed down to a few chilling phrases that leave room for your imagination to stretch.

When Mistapew picks up a sleeping teenager and carries her into a flood, for example, "the water was black all around because the stars were shy that night, except for the reflection of the moon overhead which touched the water near where they stood, the soft but generous white glow rippling like a flag in a delicate breeze."

That excerpt is drawn from a chapter where two teens contemplate taking their own lives; a response to a wave of suicides in their community. It's the darkest, most urgent instance of something else that hits the reader when turning the pages of The Evolution of Alice: this book matters to our province.

So many Manitobans have, like a character in an early chapter, only sped by reserves on the highway. Inviting us into a rich community of characters, which stretches deeper than the headlines most of us associate with reserve life, Robertson is doing a service to everyone who calls Manitoba home.

And crafting an engaging story of one family's recovery from loss -- at a time when indigenous peoples are increasingly flexing political, economic and cultural muscle in this country -- is a gift for everyone hoping for a better future for our divided country.

Easy to read if emotionally exhausting, The Evolution of Alice cements Robertson's well-earned reputation as a great Manitoba storyteller in yet another form. Hopefully it will join Robertson's The Life of Helen Betty Osborne and his 7 Generations series on school curriculums.

It's a book every Manitoban should read.


Matthew TenBruggencate is a writer for CTV Winnipeg.


Advertise With Us

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.


Updated on Saturday, November 22, 2014 at 7:53 AM CST: Formatting.

The Free Press will close this commenting platform at noon on July 14.

We want to thank those who have shared their views over the years as part of this reader engagement initiative.

In the coming weeks, the Free Press will announce new opportunities for readers to share their thoughts and to engage with our staff and each other.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.


Advertise With Us