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Posts Tagged ‘The Night Wanderer

The Night Wanderer by Drew Hayden Taylor is one of the more unique multicultural selections I have read. Taylor blends European vampire lore with modern Aboriginal culture to create a deliciously creepy tale.

Many multicultural stories are often set in the past so that authors can educate readers about a culture. When set in the present, multicultural stories instead tend to tackle discrimination. It’s rare then for a multicultural author to explore genre such as Taylor does with The Night Wanderer. The result is an unusual tale, rightfully labelled as a native gothic romance. True to gothic form, The Night Wanderer contains supernatural or otherwise inexplicable events and a curse. The secretive stranger who lodges at the Hunter home, unknown to anyone in the First Nations community, has existed for over three hundred years. One minute Pierre can be speaking to a character, the next minute he has disappeared without a trace. What’s just as mysterious is that he never shows himself in the daylight and makes a great effort to avoid eating and drinking with others.

True to romance form, The Night Wanderer also utilizes overwrought emotion and a female in distress. Tiffany Hunter’s mom has deserted the family, leaving Tiffany rebellious against her dad. Tiffany gets involved with a white boy named Tony, lets her grades slip, shuns her friends, and acts in other irrational ways. As Taylor begins to provide clues to the background of Pierre, my nervousness continued to build. Is he the one killing old-timers and young people? If so, will he kill Tiffany’s grandmother? When Tiffany runs away from home, and is followed by Pierre, what will happen when Pierre catches up to her? While vampire lore and romantic angst might seem like typical teen fare, Taylor blends them together to create a unique moralistic story that, thankfully, does not involve vampires and humans falling in love.

Normally, young adult literature is written in first person and, as such, provides immediate and personal connection to the narrator. At times, I missed this feeling in The Night Wanderer. However, there’s also a valid reason for using such a style. A prime example of the third-person omniscient style in young adult literature occurs in The Body in the Woods, where April Henry successfully intensified the suspense in her crime mystery title by switching seamlessly between various viewpoints. Similarly, by allowing readers to see inside the heads of both the peculiar stranger and the Hunter family, Taylor creates tingles. We know that Pierre has killed even those whom he loved. What is his motive in returning to the village of his childhood? We also know that the Hunter family is just distressed enough to have let down their guard. Will this be a mistake?

Although not set in the past, The Night Wanderer also does educate readers about modern Aboriginal culture by appropriately depicting a conflicted mix of old and new lifestyles. Tiffany’s family lives on Otter Creek Reserve, but she learns about Nazis and Bolsheviks at school. Her mom had been part of a traditional Native dance troupe but, at the same time, her dad drowns his sorrows over his divorce by watching television. Tiffany’s grandmother still speaks mostly Anishinabe but at the same time has a fondness for pickles. In addition, she relies on plant roots to cure illnesses while also shopping at Walmart for shoes. Even though Aboriginal families have been granted status cards for necessities, Tiffany uses it instead to impress her boyfriend with luxuries such as jewelry.  Finally, native mythology is full of mysterious creatures such as wendigoes, but Tiffany and her friends find more relevance to the monsters they battle in video games.

One of the members of the diversity committee to which I belong borrowed The Night Wanderer before me, but then returned it saying that she didn’t like to read scary stuff. While The Night Wanderer did cause goose bumps, I appreciated that my apprehension arose from bump-in-the-night chills rather than bloody and gory descriptions. If you enjoy old-fashioned horror, this coming-of-age novel is worth checking out.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

DrewTaylorBorn in Curve Lake, Ontario, Drew Hayden Taylor is part Ojibwa and part Caucasian. About this mixed background, his biography offers this quote from Taylor: “I plan to start my own nation. Because I am half Ojibway half Caucasian, we will be called the occasions. And of course, since I’m founding the new nation, I will be a special occasion.”

In his career, Taylor has worn many hats. For example, he has performed stand-up comedy at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and served as Artistic Director of Canada’s premiere Native theatre company. Also, in 2004 he was appointed to the Ontario Ministry of Culture Advisory Committee.

As for writing kudos, he has been an award-winning playwright (receiving over 70 productions of his work), documentarian (having worked on over 17 documentaries exploring the Native experience, a journalist/columnist (appearing regularly in several Canadian newspapers and magazines), television scriptwriter (including writing for notable shows such as The Beachcombers, Street Legal and North of 60), short-story writer, and novelist.

Although based in Toronto, Taylor has also traveled to seventeen countries around the world, trying to educate the world about the lives of Canada’s First Nations and spreading the gospel of Native literature. He was even invited to Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute in California, where he taught a series of seminars on the depiction of Native characters in fiction, drama and film.

ALLISON: What are your earliest memories?

DREW: Half remembered memories of playing inside a lilac bush out in front of my old house. Watching my uncle or mother put wood in a stove. Lying down on the grass with my dog and watching the rain fall directly onto my face.

ALLISON: You are half Ojibway and half Caucasian. How does this give you a unique perspective?

DREW: It gives me a special ability to deal with topics like identity. A lot of my work deals with that topic, from many of my plays i.e. IN A WORLD CREATED BY A DRUNKEN GOD, THE BOY IN THE TREEHOUSE, TORONTO AT DREAMER’S ROCK, THE SOMEDAY TRILOGY, alterNATIVES, and many more. I find myself always investigating what being Native means….. Same with many of my essays like PRETTY LIKE A WHITE BOY which was the corner stone of my four part series of creative non-fiction books, FUNNY, YOU DON’T LOOK LIKE ONE.

ALLISON: Why did you write about a Ojibway vampire?

DREW: For a number of reasons, I wanted to culturally appropriate a European legend and indigenize it. Also, may successful writers harbour a secret wish to write genre. Tom King has a murder mystery series he writes. And at the time, vampire tales were quite popular. It could be more basic than that…. I wanted to do something new and to the best of my knowledge, untried before. A new genre…. aboriginal gothic.

ALLISON: What inspires you to spread the “gospel of Native literature”?

DREW: I think part of our responsibility as writers, and more importantly Native writers, is to tell the world about our stories – what we write and why we write it. I am just one warrior in the battle for literary recognition. We all must let the world know about all the great things we have written and will write. Also, when you are on tour, you sometimes get tired of just talking about yourself and your work, and want to include the writing other people are contributing to the cause.

ALLISON: What is your proudest moment?

DREW: Tough question. I don’t know if I have one yet. It could have been when I was nominated twice for the Governor General’s award, or when my first book came out or when my mother said she was proud of me.

In 2007, Annick Press published Taylor’s first novel, The Night Wanderer. I’ll review The Night Wanderer tomorrow. Save the date: June 12!

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