Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2018
Reviewed by Alasdair Robertson
Eden Robinson’s Trickster Drift is one step from a literary hat-trick, the second book in what she promised would be a trilogy so she begins by bringing new readers up to speed without overt to recap before matching the thrills of the first instalment.
The first book, Son of a Trickster, was a finalist for the Giller Prize and saw Robinson’s protagonist Jared living at home with his mother Maggie, who just happened to be an enthusiastic abuser of hard drugs, a violent gun wielding criminal, and a powerful witch. Jared had a hard time making ends meet; he sold pot cookies, trying to keep himself above the poverty line, but also secretly financing his deadbeat junkie father’s new family.
As if his real-world problems were not substantial enough, Jared regularly saw ghosts, including his dead dog Baby Killer. He heard the voice of a Raven in his head. Sara, his girlfriend, was a self-harming witch, and he was being targeted by a clan of man-eating otters.
In this volume, Jared has left his mother’s home in Kitimat to start a new life in Vancouver with his mum’s estranged sister, Mave. She is a poet, an activist, and oblivious to all of the magic that surrounds her home and her family.
Jared has split with his troubled ex-girlfriend, and has been sober for a year thanks to regular AA meetings. Things are looking up except he still sees ghosts and monsters, with whom he communicates telepathically. He’s struggling to come to terms with the fact that he is likely half human and half magical raven. Worse still, his mother’s psychopathic ex-boyfriend, David, is now stalking and harassing Jared with vengeful intent. David is still upset about Maggie stapling him to the floor with a nail gun in the first book.
Every character in Trickster Drift leaps off the page fully developed and wildly captivating. She skillfully takes magical elements of indigenous First Nation culture and brings them into a grittily realistic world. There are parallels between shape-shifting and growing up. Trickster Drift is a compelling coming-of-age story about a First Nations teen from a broken home on the reserve, plagued by a history of violence, alcoholism and drug-addiction.
Demons, ghosts and werewolf relatives are dealt with matter-of-factly, offerring moments that are as funny, or touching, as they are unsettling. The most horrific moments are left to humans.
“As Cedar continued pulling his skin off like an uncomfortable snowsuit, a gangly wolf pup emerged…Aunt Georgina tsk-tsked as she picked the boy’s human skin up off the ground and draped it over her free arm. Cedar, you need to learn to put your things away, she said.”