Allison's Book Bag

The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp

Posted on: June 3, 2015

The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp feels unique in some ways. The style is fresh and original. Parts of the story are gritty and brutal. Unfortunately, there are also ways in which The Lesser Blessed feels like a tired old tale, with its heavy reliance on language, drugs, and sex. For these reasons, the more I read, the more conflicted I felt about what to write in my review.

What I liked most is how main character, a Dogrib Native teenage named Larry, expresses himself. “It is the summer of my crucifixion. I try so hard to be pure; I take two baths a day. At least underwater I can hear my heart beat….” With an opening paragraph like this, how can one not be hooked? The analogies, metaphors, and other types of literary language used in Camp’s narration make for an atypical teen read. I also enjoyed the labeling of each new scene, some being as simple as “Me” or “Them” or “Mister Harris” and other being as creative as “The Blue Monkeys of Corruption” and “Six Stages of Rigor Mortis”. Another unusual aspect is Larry’s memories and retellings of stories. Since his accident, Larry’s memory apparently has been lousy, but he sure does know how to weave some creative and harsh tales. The one about the monkeys involves India, postcards, and thieving monkeys.

Largely due to his friendship with Johnny, a half Metis, Larry begins to remember his past. As he does, readers are exposed to some pretty gritty and brutal scenes. A notable example involves animals. One night, Larry took a puppy with him along the back roads to where the dog sleds were and the stars were clear. He got so excited to see meteorites that he put the puppy down. Without being aware of it, he put the puppy down too close to the Huskies. The puppy didn’t have a chance…. When I shared that episode with my husband, he felt surprised that I didn’t immediately stop reading. While the episode did make my stomach sick, the brutality actually fit the rest of Larry’s life. His accident was brutal. His father was brutal. Life has not been kind to Larry and this episode showed just how screwed up Larry could get. We shouldn’t always avoid disturbing content.

What I dislike about The Lesser Blessed is how most of the middle felt like every other raunchy teen story where the language flows freely and nights are filled with parties, drugs (even if Larry and his friends are getting stoned on sniffing gasoline instead of other typical drugs), and one-night stands. There’s more than instance of ass, damn, and even the F* word. Also, after meeting Johnny, Larry becomes more social but with a wild crowd. He gets into a couple bad fights, along with falls for a girl who doesn’t mind in whose bed she ends up. The lifestyle depicted is the extreme of teen stereotypes. What’s worse is that while Larry wants to heal from his past, he seems content enough with his present.

Author Richard Vamp Camp is himself from the Dogrib Nation. I have no doubt of the authenticity of The Lesser Blessed. Foods eaten, clothes worn, interactions, and beliefs shared feel Native. All this is well and good, but the aimless lifestyle of the teens in The Lesser Blessed leaves me unable to recommend it. Feeling lost being a fairly prevalent problem among adolescents in many cultures, I wanted to feel some hope for Larry’s future—or least insights unique to Native culture. Instead, when I reached the final pages, I ended up wondering: Where is the meaning to this narrative?

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

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