I bought Waubgeshig Rice’s Moon of the Crusted Snow on the same Amazon spree that brought me Tanya Tagaq’s Split Tooth, and for much the same reason: I’ve read very little by Indigenous/Native people to begin with, and at the time nothing from anyone outside the United States. Amazon’s algorithm threw this at me, and it looked interesting, so I grabbed it. I love finding new authors this way, and this is definitely a time when it really worked out, as both books are stellar. Split Tooth is a bit of a hard recommend because of its content– the review has a trigger warning on it, and for a very good reason– but Moon of the Crusted Snow is much more of a straight piece of fiction and it’s a lot easier to kind of toss my arms out toward everyone and say you should read this!
Because you should.
Moon of the Crusted Snow, at 217 pages, is a bit long to call a novella and a bit short to call a novel, but it’s definitely a quick read one way or another. The premise is this: Evan Whitesky, lives in a “northern” Anishnaabe community (more on that in a second) that is suddenly and abruptly cut off from the outside world– phones stop working, the power goes out, satellite phones go dead, everything– right at the beginning of winter. The book is kind of broadly post-apocalyptic, as you eventually get small looks at the outside world, mostly through refugees that come to the Rez looking for shelter, and it seems like everywhere has gone to hell at the same time. For the most part, though, the book is confined to the reservation.
On the word “northern” up there: the best thing about this book is the setting and the overall tone of the writing; describing the book as “chilling” the way the pull quote on the cover does is a good choice of words. Moon of the Crusted Snow is excellently claustrophobic and creepy even though the actual plot isn’t obviously all that complicated or scary; if you know that the basic idea is that this small community is cut off from the outside world during winter you can probably predict the broad strokes of what’s going to happen without any further help from me, particularly when the detail of a handful of outsiders showing up is thrown in. To the best of my recollection the book never uses the word Canada, and if it does, it’s very limited, and most references to the outside world are limited to “the South,” as if this community is literally at the top of the world, and there is nothing at all in any other direction. It’s almost got the feel of a second world fantasy, but not quite.
If anything, I’d compare this book to Caitlin Starling’s The Luminous Dead, another book with a deliberately limited setting and a fairly simple premise, that sticks in your head simply by virtue of being phenomenally atmospheric and creepy. The weird thing about this book is that for most of the book it’s hard to even explain why the prose hits the way it does. I almost wish I had read the thing during February and not in June; it would have been even more effective that way. I don’t know that I liked it as much as TLD or Split Tooth, but it’s still well worth a read.
12:44 PM, Sunday, June 7: 1,922,054 confirmed cases and 109,846 American dead. Worldwide crossed over 400,000 dead today as well.