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Blood, sugar, book, magic: Eden Robinson returns

By Zoe Grams

Eden Robinson. (Submitted Photo)

Eden Robinson. (Submitted Photo)

January 19 is a day of dangerous genius, astrologically speaking.

Award-winning author Eden Robinson shares her birthdate with visionaries Edgar Allen Poe, Paul Cézanne and Janis Joplin, among others. She’s a ‘Capriquarian’, I’m told with a long belly laugh from a hotel room in Saskatoon that’s bigger than her apartment. (Robinson loves travelling in general, she says, but “having free hotel rooms warms the cockles of my frugal heart.”)

This signature cocktail of mystique and humour aptly represents the Haisla and Heiltsuk novelist’s new book, Son of a Trickster (Penguin RandomHouse). Her first book in eight years, it’s already receiving breathless accolades across the country.

On Feb. 22 the author will enjoy yet another of our country’s inns as she arrives to discuss her work as part of Vancouver Writers Fest’s free Incite event series at VPL Central Library.

Robinson’s latest novel centers around Jared: a teen with a troubled family who spends much of his time drinking or trying to support his loved ones. Set in Kitimat, the author’s hometown, it offers an unsparing look at the difficulties faced by First Nations youth, particularly in small-town BC stagnant from mass layoffs. “Grime Lit”, as Robinson calls it.

“I remember it vividly: the mood of the town was so heavy, so many people left,” Robinson explains. “These people had been hockey coaches, worked in stores, had kids in schools: their departure left a huge hole in the community. I wanted to explore what happens in a company town when the company goes under.”

The resulting story involves scenes that are painfully lonely and often bloody.

Readers of her previous work will be familiar with Robinson’s sharp portrayal of difficult lives. Her writing often produces a laugh and a grimace at once, yet each work is laced with kindness, hope and wisdom.

“Part of it might be cultural,” she offers when asked why comedy is such a useful tool to explore tragedy. “I think that when dark things happen we tend to meet them with humour – and sometimes that humour is a little dry and dark. That’s how we deal with the darker parts of life.”

She explains the evolved grieving traditions that happen in Kitimat when a loved one dies.

“It’s an intense mourning process and you’d think it’d be heavy, but when you’re gathered in the same room what comes out is all the memories – and they’re usually funny,” she says. “Your goodbyes are filled with laughter.”

Interwoven with a clever, pop-culture perspective on contemporary life for Indigenous youth in Son of a Trickster is Haisla and Heiltsuk lore. Fizzing from the pages is an exploration of the depth and mystery of the spirit world. Robinson took much inspiration from tales of Weget – a character with many meanings and roles that differ between nations.

She remembers sitting around the kitchen table, smoking cigarettes and telling Weget stories. “(The ones) I love the most are the informal ones: they were looser, they were crazier. We’d make each other laugh more and more. Those were the stories I wanted Son of a Trickster to reflect.”

Such tales will be celebrated on Wednesday alongside the work of Monia Mazigh and Deborah Willis who Robinson for a unique and literary perspective on some of the most pressing issues in our headlines about the marginalized and minority. Expect to laugh from your gut while stepping between the rending and affirming.

Eden Robinson speaks at the Vancouver Writers Fest’s free Incite event on Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. at the Vancouver Public Library, Central Branch. For more information visit: www.writersfest.bc.ca.