Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

An adult fiction pick by Jean-Louis

medecinewalk(McClelland and Stewart, 2014)

What does it take to make a man or to un-make a man? What is it to be a son and what does a father owe to his son?Richard Wagamese asks these tough questions and many more in his new novel, Medicine Walk.

Franklin Starlight has been raised by the “old man” for most of his life and has become an adept backwoods man and capable young farmer. His stand-in father has raised a confident young man who is sure of his skills in the bush and around the farm. But when it comes to his background, Franklin is on much shakier ground. His latest task is set for him as he answers the call to come to the aid of his father Eldon, a life-long drunk.

It is not the first time that Franklin has met his father, but once he meets up with Eldon at a local flophouse, Franklin quickly realizes that this time will be the last with his father. And Franklin has desperate questions that he still wants answered–and his father is the only person who can provide the answers. Eldon has asked for his son because he recognizes his life is over and he wants Franklin’s help to make it to the spot where he has chosen to die in traditional Ojibwa manner. Eldon also realizes that this is his last chance to make amends for a life of neglect of his son. The challenge to meet this final hurdle is herculean for Eldon and he is not sure he will be able to rise to the task in time. Together father and son set out on an epic trek and together they try to bridge the gap of knowledge that has crippled them both.

Wagamese does a masterful job of taking us on this physical, emotional, and psychic journey. His characters are real, flawed, and all very much appealing. We feel the intense need that Franklin has to learn about his father and his mother, and we also learn of the hard choices and paths which have brought Eldon to this precipice in his life. The novel’s journey is not all sunshine and light, but neither is it all darkness. The resolution of the book is hopeful.

Read this new novel and the previous works of this talented Canadian writer! Among his books are the “Canada Reads” finalist Indian Horse, One Native Life, Ragged Company, and many others.


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