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Pickle Me This

October 24, 2019

Empire of Wild, by Cherie Dimaline

How does an author follow up a success like The Marrow Thieves, Cherie Dimaline’s bestselling novel that won so many awards and prizes that they ran out of room on the cover? The most straightforward answer I can think of was also Dimaline’s herself, which was to publish Empire of Wild, a book that’s unabashedly excellent, gripping, funny, gorgeous, and dark. I read this book when I was taking part of in a read-a-thon last weekend. No, not that one that is my life, but the other one, raising money for metastatic breast cancer research. And Empire of Wild was the perfect novel for this experience—I couldn’t put it down, even if I’d wanted to.

It’s a book that reminded me a bit of Bad Ideas, another one of my favourite novels this year, about impossible love and what it means to believe in it. Empire of Wild begins with Joan, whose husband Victor has been missing for almost a year. He’d left the house after an argument they’d had about selling her family’s land. Hasn’t been seen since, though Joan’s not given up hope of his return just yet. And then one early morning, nursing a hangover, Joan walks into a revival tent in a Wal-Mart parking lot and discovers a man she knows is Victor, but he’s also a preacher whose name is Eugene Wolff. So who is he anyway? And what’s up with these holy rollers who seem to turn up in Indigenous communities who are making deals with big mining companies? Add to the mix a Rogarou, a werewolf-like creature from Metis stories, and you’ve got a plot-driven thriller on your hands.

Will Joan succeed in finding her husband again? Is Victor even still alive? With her Johnny Cash-obsessed nephew riding shotgun, Joan sets out to discover the answer to these questions, risking her own life in the process, and the result is an absolute terrific read, as powerful as it’s propulsive, plus the humour even in the darkness, savvy and self-aware lines like, “Sure hope those jackasses haven’t built over the spot. If they have, I hope those scary movies having it right and building over old Indian stuff makes your kids disappear into televisions.”

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