Smoke River is Krista Foss‘ first novel. It is set in the vaguely named interlake region of Ontario, in a fictitious settlement that bears a striking resemblance to the Caledonia and Hagersville area bordering the Six Nations Reserve. In recent years, Caledonia has been synonymous with First Nations land disputes, and that sets the scene for Smoke River.
My mother’s family comes from the same region as the setting of Smoke River, and for that reason I was particularly interested in how the novel would unfold. Instead of focusing on the macro issues involved in land disputes, that encompass colonialism, years of squabbles and unfair deals, Foss looks to the microcosm. The story focuses on two families who are impacted in very direct ways by the land dispute. And she looks not just at the dispute, but the social realm that surrounds the dispute – who is friends with whom, who went to school together and who has petty jealousies. It is in these details that the story of Smoke River is at its most compelling.
But it may also be in the microcosm that the story also looses its way. Many smaller story lines run throughout the novel and at times I would forget or confuse the details. I also found that the various story lines lacked resolution. I suspect that that is intentional as the great story of land disputes in Canada also lacks resolution, but I still wanted parts of the story to end a little more conclusively.
Who would like this book? I think this novel is going to have tremendous appeal to those who are interested in First Nations issues in Canada. It stands out as confronting different issues than the usual fare of residential schools and rampant alcoholism. That being said, it should be noted that I have not read much First Nations literature beyond Alexie Sherman, Tom King and Richard Wagamese (Indian Horse review). Perhaps Smoke River seems different because it is written from a female point of view.
I would like to thank RandomHouse Canada for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.