He wants the simplicity of finality, but it’s never like it is in the movies. It always lingers on. Like a song that ends a beat or two before it’s supposed to, it feels like there should be more but there’s nothing, just an empty space and a long, fading echo.– The Break
Summary and Thoughts
When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.
In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim — police, family, and friends — tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.
Have you ever read an excellently written book that, though you love, know you will never read again? That’s this book. The Break refers to a specific part of land where the characters’ lives revolve around, however, the title also refers to a horrific attack that occurs on this area as well, the pain of which reverberates throughout the characters’ entire family. This is a book about trauma. From page to page to page, there are mediations from a variety of perspectives that slowly but effectively reveal different conclusions, different ways to connect and cope, as well as how all this pain is interwoven, a legacy that haunts one generation to the next. For those who are triggered by sexual assault and violence, I would warn against picking this up, for there really isn’t any reprieve from this topic throughout the entire book. It’s heavy – with emotion, craft, and feeling – good, but heavy.
I would also like to take note of the multiple perspectives in this book – perhaps 10? There’s a family tree in the beginning of the book that I was unable to take advantage of, as I listened to this via audiobook. Even so, I was, more or less, able to follow each characters’ journeys without too much confusion. This alone should display Vermette’s clear skill in being able to create a clear narrative despite weaving multiple perspectives and going from past to present constantly. Though some voices tended to sound similar at times, I still felt oriented in time and location.
If you want to read a book that sheds light on gendered violence and racial discrimination within Indigenous communities and aren’t afraid to sit with the trauma, then this book is rewarding in its beautiful language and insight.
For Those Who Enjoyed
- In My Own Moccasins by Helen Knott
- Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga
- Heart Medicine by Louise Erdrich
- Five Little Indians by Michelle Good
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