Medicine Walk, by Richard Wagamese, © 2014, McClelland & Stewart
Should I start by saying this book wrecked me? That I bawled through the last twenty pages, apparently having stopped at exactly the right spot last night. Normally I can't put a book down with that few pages to go, but something told me that I couldn't continue last night. So at lunch today fat tears dropped into my soup and scattered across the pages, as a mound of kleenexes piled up.
Not that this book was... what? Chick-lit? Thriller? Romance? It was none of those things. It was literature, and good quality prose at that.
All the way along I felt like this was a book that a man's man would appreciate. The main character is 16-year-old Frank, raised by "the old man". He taught him to fish, hunt, recognize tracks, survive in the bush, and most importantly, the value of hard work. His father on the other hand slips in and out of Frank's life on rare occasion, and those moments are always punctuated by drink. He is a virtual stranger and a miserable, non-communicative one even when he does make rare appearance. The old man serves as the only kin that young Frank has, but that doesn't prevent his thoughts from straying to blood ties.
When the book opens, Frank has been summoned by his father to town. Eldon is sick and dying, his abused liver finally at the point of shutting down. He has a last request for his estranged son - to take him into the woods to bury him in the warrior way. This despite the fact that Eldon has never taken much stock in his native roots. Frank struggles with the request, but ultimately agrees to the task, if only to see if some of the questions that have dogged him his whole life might be answered. What they discover along the way is a broken life lived.
This quiet book looks at life, hope, fear, love and the struggles that are encountered along the way. Wagamese's prose is fuelled by the knowledge that as much as we need to listen to hear life's stories, sometimes those stories need to be told too. Whether we think we have the strength to tell them or not.