Review: The Moon of Letting Go and other stories

Technically, The Moon of Letting Go and other stories by Richard Van Camp wasn’t written for children, and given the high amounts and explicit detail of the sexual content, (reverse) crossover appeal may be limited to older teens – but. But.

The Moon of Letting Go is intensely local – set, as the back copy says, “in the Northwest Territories, and in urban and rural British Columbia.” All, or almost all, the protagonists share Richard Van Camp’s Dogrib (Tlicho) heritage, and several live in communities where this doesn’t make them a minority.

Three of the stories stood out as being particularly oral. These stories didn’t follow the expected beginning-middle-end pattern that typical written narratives have; instead, reading was like listening to a friend or an acquaintance or a relative tell you about part of their day, or about something that happened last week. They felt as if they were written to be read with the intonation and speech patterns that my relatives in northern, rural BC have. — Lo and behold, the Afterwords notes that these three stories and one more were originally broadcast on CBC Radio One. Which is pretty cool! If you have a hard time getting into short stories, these might be just what you need.

Some of the tales left me mystified, which is part of the nature of short stories. Even the ones I didn’t like, however, conveyed a taste of Dogrib (Tlicho) culture – the humour, the difficulties, the community – and how this culture is not mine but so generously shared, how the specificity of the stories and the interactions between Indigenous peoples of different nations stand as a counter to the colonizer’s and the appropriator’s desire to lump everything “Native” into some vague “Pan-Indian” rubbish bereft of context. Even the stories I didn’t care for – I was glad I read them.

My favourite story was the titular “The Moon of Letting Go.” This attachment could because the central character is a woman. It could be because Celestine has left an abusive relationship and has a sense of her own worth, despite her husband’s attempts to destroy it. It could be because she and her son, Robby are super close. It could be because of the help from an unexpected source. It could be because of the way Celestine’s family supports her – there is a whole community interceding on her behalf, even if they can’t be physically present during her trials. It could be because the story is about new beginnings. It could be because of the narrative focus on right behaviour, on using your head and common sense, and on compassion. It could be because part of the narrative was like the fairy tales I so love, and like (although not like) The Girl with a Brave Heart*. It could be because the ending, the very ending? relies on Celestine’s own skills – her ability to steer a car that is out of control, and her ability to change a blown tire – and on her courageous determination. It could be because this is just a really awesome story about an Indigenous (Dogrib/Tlicho) woman who survives and more than survives, written beautifully and with heart.

*The Girl with a Brave Heart: a Tale from Tehran is a picturebook by Rita Jahanforanuz; illustrated by Vali Mintzi.