November 18, 2018

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Trickster sequel balances humour, hardship

The sequel to Son of a Trickster (which was shortlisted for the 2017 Giller Prize) and the second book of B.C. author Eden Robinson’s Trickster trilogy, Trickster Drift follows 17-year-old Jared as he celebrates a year of sobriety and moves to Vancouver for college.

Oh, and he moves in with his Aunt Mave, whose apartment is a nexus of dimensions plagued by spirits and monsters.

Jared’s mother, a core character in the Haisla and Heiltsuk author’s previous book, is nearly absent from this one, but her ex reappears to stalk Jared — who just wants to focus on his sobriety and his school work and not have to deal with drama. But family equals drama, and Jared’s family just seems to keep growing. He reconnects with his mother’s estranged sister and comes to know his cousins, becoming embroiled in their lives.

At the same time, he forges closer connections to his father’s side of the family: nightmare creatures that sense in Jared some latent potential as the son of the supernatural trickster Wee’git. When an ocean otter stuck in a human body tells you that “you have a very strange life,” you need to rethink things.

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The sequel to Son of a Trickster (which was shortlisted for the 2017 Giller Prize) and the second book of B.C. author Eden Robinson’s Trickster trilogy, Trickster Drift follows 17-year-old Jared as he celebrates a year of sobriety and moves to Vancouver for college.

Oh, and he moves in with his Aunt Mave, whose apartment is a nexus of dimensions plagued by spirits and monsters.

Jared’s mother, a core character in the Haisla and Heiltsuk author’s previous book, is nearly absent from this one, but her ex reappears to stalk Jared — who just wants to focus on his sobriety and his school work and not have to deal with drama. But family equals drama, and Jared’s family just seems to keep growing. He reconnects with his mother’s estranged sister and comes to know his cousins, becoming embroiled in their lives.

At the same time, he forges closer connections to his father’s side of the family: nightmare creatures that sense in Jared some latent potential as the son of the supernatural trickster Wee’git. When an ocean otter stuck in a human body tells you that "you have a very strange life," you need to rethink things.

Robinson’s core tactic in Trickster Drift, just as it was in Son of a Trickster, is to fill her plot with supernatural elements drawn from Indigenous beliefs, but focus on everyday non-supernatural struggles such as evading a stalker, being broke and not understanding physics.

The combination soaks everything in a sheen of soap-opera melodrama that Robinson treats with a knowing jokiness that mirrors Jared’s own self-defensive humour.

When Jared meets Lilith, who claims to be his half-sister through his Trickster father, she tells him, "I commune with the other side. I consider it a privilege and an honour. But you have no idea the responsibility I carry as a messenger between the worlds."

Jared’s response: "That must suck."

Throughout, Robinson balances realist, coming-of-age subject matter against a supernatural horror-fantasy plot with a comic tone. Unlike lesser authors, Robinson understands precisely how to make this comic tone work.

At one important moment, as horror descends, Jared manages to overcome by singing a Nickelback song. It annoys and upsets Jared’s tormentor to the point that he is able to escape.

The moment is absolutely hilarious, yet the comedy in no way reduces the disturbing horror of the struggle. Robinson understands, like few writers do, how comedy (when committed to fully) can enhance and deepen un-funny emotions such as horror, sadness and pain.

When the world is chaos and your life’s filled with terror, at a certain point it just gets ridiculous. The absurdity of how bad things are going hits you in a strange way as you become more depressed and detached while you disassociate to stay sane. You start to laugh at how much everything hurts.

Winnipeg English Prof. Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) is the author of five books. Visit him online at writingthewrongway.com.

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