#REVIEW: Moon of the Crusted Snow, by Waubgeshig Rice

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.

#REVIEW: Split Tooth, by Tanya Tagaq

Content warning: Split Tooth contains rape, sexual assault, child abuse, infanticide and a really weird and explicit erotic dream sequence involving a fox god.

I don’t really know how the hell to write this. I’m 20 books into my planned 52 books by women of color in 2020 project, and in all honesty I came across this and basically bought it blind upon realizing that Tanya Tagaq was a Canadian Inuit and I’m fairly certain I’ve made it through 43 years and have never read a book by a Canadian Indigenous author. Split Tooth really straddles and/or defies genre categorization; I saw it referred to as a “mythobiography” in one interview with the author and I like that word so let’s go with that. It’s partially memoir, but with one foot firmly in mythic fantasy (the main character is impregnated by the Northern Lights late in the book, for example) and probably 15% of the total wordcount is poetry. It tells the story of a young Inuk girl growing up in Nunavut in the 1970s, and while there are moments of carefree joy and childhood scattered here and there it is safe to assume that there are a lot of things about growing up in that place and time as an Indigenous person that are, frankly, terrible, and Tagaq’s depiction of the sexual abuse that her main character has to endure are unflinching and harrowing. She’s not going to sugarcoat anything in this book; the content warning at the beginning of this piece is as necessary as anything else I’ve ever written.

But here’s the thing, and you need to realize as you’re reading that I’m saying this about a book with poetry in it: the writing in this book is beautiful, and while under normal circumstances I am the type of reader for whom “it’s 15% poetry” would cause me to not pick up the book in the first place, the way the book slides from explicit, brutal realism to naturalistic fantasy sequences to the poetic sections (which can contain elements of either) is just astounding. I haven’t ever read anything like Split Tooth before, and I’m super glad I went with my gut and just ordered the damn thing without thinking about it too much, because it really isn’t a good match with most of the stuff I usually read and thinking about it too much would probably have led to me not purchasing it. Sometimes my tendency to impulse-buy books works in my favor; this is definitely one of those times. Take the content warning seriously– while, at 190 pages, this is a quick read, it’s definitely not an easy one, but it’s absolutely worth it.

3:11 PM, Thursday May 7: 1,244,119 confirmed cases and 74,844 American deaths.