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October 18, 2015

Night Moves, by Richard Van Camp

night-movesRichard Van Camp’s short story collection Night Moves is a book about transgressions. And for me even reading it was something of a transgression—I don’t read many male writers and Van Camp’s stories are so very male, stories with grit and violence, so much aggression. More than once I wondered if this book was really for me, but something compelled me to keep going. Part of it that these stories weren’t all so male after all, or at least that the question of gender isn’t a straightforward one—the first story, “bornagirl,” is about a trans woman violently assaulted by the young narrator who fears her difference as much as he’s drawn to it. Gender is fluid in many stories throughout the book. And so too are notions of natural and supernatural, the line sometimes blurred entirely to rich and evocative ends, otherworldly creatures living amidst the solidity of the physical world. And stories of otherworldliness living comfortably beside others altogether steeped in realism—”I Double Dogrib Dare You” about a man infatuated by a woman he calls The Holy Woman, a woman said to be half-spirit; followed by “Blood Rides the Wind” about a young man who rides into town intent on revenge for his cousin’s sexual abuse at the hands of a school principal, but who finds his plans challenged by a different kind of blood tie and a promise for the future. “Because of What I Did” is another story of revenge, against a man who’s part of a network behind the disappearance of women across the country—an allusion to the more than a thousand Indigenous women who’ve been murdered or gone missing in Canada in recent decades, to little or no notice until recently. And the very sexy but miraculously restrained “If Only Tonight,” speaking of transgressions, is about a married couple and an old friend, true confessions, no inhibitions and boundaries falling away altogether…as a David Gray winds down on the stereo (of course!).

Van Camp is a prolific writer and storyteller, a Dogrib (Tlicho) Dene from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. We know him best in our house from his children’s books (Little You; What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses?), and it’s another transgression, I suppose, that his work so readily moves between audiences and genres. The stories in Night Moves extend the narratives of characters from his previous works, including the novel The Lesser Blessed and his most recent collection, Godless But Loyal to Heaven. (This review by Lauren Scott does a great job of putting Night Moves in the wider context of Van Camp’s work.)

I’m inclined to criticize a certain roughness I encountered editorially—typos and a few mistakes—in my copy of the book (which I think was an ARC). Although there is something about such roughness in keeping with the entire project—this is a book far more about its edges than its polish. It’s a rough book. And yet the “something compelling” I found about it all along, I think, is the way that it’s all the same infused with the power of hopefulness. Like its characters at pivotal moments, standing at the crossroads, the reader is driven to turn a corner, turn the page.*

(*Which is another Bob Seger reference I made totally by accident…)

One thought on “Night Moves, by Richard Van Camp”

  1. Alexis Kienlen says:

    I love Richard’s work. It amuses me that his stories are so rough and gritty when he is the happiest and friendliest man. 🙂

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