The Break by Katherena Vermette


“There was an incident just outside your property, Mr. McGregor,” the young officer continues. “Your wife witnessed some sort of assault.”

Stella, a Métis woman knows she witnessed something violent outside infant son’s window. Shamed by her inaction, she calls 911, because it was definitely something horrible, but she had her children to worry about. What mother would just rush out and involve herself, unsure of what she was really seeing? The police believe it had to be nothing, just some riffraff, some fight… she’s just overwrought, surely. Just a tired mother, imagining something more than it was. It’s interesting how she is treated by the police.

That one moment of inaction is yet another link in a chain, and each of the women of four generations is connected. How could Stella possibly know who the victim is, or just how brutal and cruel the crime. Had she known, would she have reacted differently? The chaos makes her think of her Kookom, her grandmother whom she’s neglected, yet another guilt to add to her mounting shame. Stella left them all for her ‘white husband’, her cushy ‘white life.’ But tender memories of her loving Kookom are falling on her like the snow outside.

Phoenix is straight out of juvenile hall, looking for a place to hide. She lives and breathes violence, her actions too big for her years. She doesn’t care about her own life, why should other people matter? Cheryl is working on a series of paintings, her ‘wolf women’. Rain was her first subject, her beautiful sister, lost to her now. The reader knows she is dead, something big happened that haunts them all.  Emily and Ziggy are trying to party with the big kids, but they will learn a lesson they will never forget.  A spirit lingers, frustrated, waiting and watching her daughter. Something brutal happens to Emily, the only thing more shocking than how she is vilolated is who did it, unimaginable. When the police come to the hospital, Officer Tommy Scott is quick to see his partner Officer Christie’s disgust towards native people. It’s a case that will require him to be calm, collected and if he is to connect the dots, it’s vital he finds way to get his partner as engaged. As a native he knows all too well how little his people matter to the likes of people like Christie. He understands the criminal side of his city as much as the tradition and struggles his people are forced to cope with. He teeters between loyalty to his people, and  dedication to his job.

The women are all victims and fighters. They have each suffered incredible loss, of loved ones, of innocence, of hope. They are terrorized by men and find it hard to trust love when it shows a kind face. When we finally come to the end, we hear Rain’s story and how inconsequential she was to the world, and how she meant everything to her children and family. This is how it feels to be disposable, and yet in the end what does it mean if those who are to blame never face justice? What happens when they do? Where does the monster that rises in some people come from, where does that monster go? Misery circles back. The novel has a few ‘Kookoo-isms’ that warm the heart and the story is so disturbing that it needs all the warmth it can get. This is one of my favorite interactions, ” Jeff’s really good. He’s a good man, Kookoo, but he just doesn’t get it.” Stella’s voice is a little louder, a little stronger. “He just doesn’t understand. ” She sits there with her knees pulled to her chest, protecting herself. “None of them do.” I chuckle a little and think. “It’s not their job to understand.” “I don’t know if I can be with someone who doesn’t understand.” Her young face rests on her knee, looking away. “Then you will be alone, and that will be fine.” Kookom is the wisdom, but it’s not without earning it with life experiences most why be left devastated by.

While there are a lot of characters, and the narrative changes with each of them, it’s an important tale that needs to be told. It’s not an easy read, what befalls the thirteen-year-old Emily is beyond shocking and I imagine a lot of readers will wonder about Phoenix. How did she get to that dark place of her soul? Is it surprising the wreck she is? Curious what others think about her.

Publication Date: March 6, 2018

House of Anansi Press



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