Moon of the Crusted Snow
by Waubgeshig Rice
book and audiobook published by ECW Press
audiobook read by Billy Merasty
This novel is a slow, intense burn – and the audiobook is narrated in an impressively CANADIAN manner!
Evan and his family have a comfortable, modest life on a small Anishinaabe (First Nations) reservation, where he works for the community government in a range of jobs that are enough to keep his spouse and two children warm and fed through brutal Canadian winters. He enjoys hunting to keep his extended family fed through the winter, and he and his wife both enjoy meeting with elders to learn more about the old ways, which their community has partly abandoned in favor of modern trappings that arrived with reliable electricity.
When the power goes out, it disrupts the community’s school and local businesses, but is sure to come back soon.
Then the landlines stop working. Which is exotic.
Then the satellite phones and radios go silent as well. For a community displaced to this isolated reservation a few generations ago, who are accustomed to keeping to themselves, there aren’t any obvious places to go for information that aren’t a great distance away.
And then, refugees begin to arrive from the nearest non-native town, where some sort of societal collapse is underway… It occurs to Evan that the power may not be coming back on again for a very long while, if ever. And, that some members of his community aren’t interested in doing the work required to survive without imported foods and fuels…
The story builds tension throughout, with soft moments of Evan’s children learning Anishinaabemowin words from the elders in between fights breaking out over emergency supplies, armed standoffs, premature deaths, and the realization that a community really shows its character during a crisis…
Actor Billy Merasty’s intense Canadian-ness adds something special to the narration. The sort of chill, slow-paced ‘how are your folks doing’ dialog while tensions mount contributes to the surreal nature of the crisis: these are ordinary people living ordinary lives until the crisis hits, and they maintain their normal pace in a realistic manner. (No one suddenly becomes a super-efficient action-movie-hero! ) His reading of the Anishinaabemowin dialog, and the way that local words mingle with Canadian English so naturally in inter-generational conversations, reminds me of inter-generational, multi-lingual conversations here – they are well written and well performed. (Merasty is a First Nations actor and author himself, though from a different group than the author.)
This is a well-written, compact, increasingly stressful book to read – stressful in a good way. I’m glad I read it!