Eden Robinson is one the most highly regarded Indigenous writers in Canada. A member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations, Robinson is best known for her collection of short stories, Traplines, and her novel Monkey Beach, which was a Giller Prize finalist.
Robinson’s latest novel, Son of a Trickster, stays true to her classic style, brilliantly combining the mundanity of reality with the magic of the supernatural. The protagonist, Jared, must navigate his adolescence in an Indigenous community while confronting complex characters, drugs, love, ghost-like apes, cannibalistic otters, and a talking raven named Wee’git.
However, the supernatural elements of Robinson’s plot are not the novel’s main feature, but an additive. Even more impressive is Robinson’s clever juxtaposition of the typical coming-of-age struggles — such as romance, friendship, drama, partying, sex, and drunken violence — with the tough reality of adulthood. Jared is left juggling these two worlds when both the teenagers and the adults in his life are constantly on the brink of falling apart.
For example, Jared is roped into helping his local bully with a romantic relationship, while also selling weed cookies to help his absent dad pay rent. Jared’s big heart is a blessing and a curse, and his situation is emblematic of the ways in which teenagers sometimes have to carry the adults in their lives when the roles should be reversed.
Robinson is able to communicate the haphazardness of Jared’s life in a manner that is not overly dramatic. Rather, she uses wry humour that is translated exceptionally well through her complex characters, most of whom are quick-witted and vulgar in their responses to absurd situations.
It is the characters’ nuance that makes the book feel true to life. No major character is wholly good or wholly bad; rather, they are flawed people living with their own secrets and burdens. One moment, you might find yourself rooting for Jared’s loving, abrasive, and eccentric mother, but then her selfish tendencies and the way she brings drugs and dangerous men into Jared’s life infuriate you.
Robinson’s ability to write about violence without sensationalizing it is crucial to how we understand Jared’s life. He is affected by violence and substance use disorder, but these don’t define his character, and don’t necessarily define his life, either. Without dramatization, Robinson shows how substance use disorder can alter a person’s relationships with their loved ones and how sticky situations almost always ensue.
Son of a Trickster allows the reader to step into a world much different from their own, filled with magic, monsters, and supernatural animals. Yet the characters’ hardships and the complexity of love and loss will also resonate with many.
Jared’s strength — and the strength that many teenagers have to learn throughout adolescence — can be summed up with the motto Jared repeats to himself throughout the novel: “The world is hard, you have to be harder.” And with Son of a Trickster being the first novel in a trilogy to come, it seems like Jared’s story is only beginning.