James Nathan and Jake Noland have been best friends for their entire lives. Like most residents in their small northern Gwich’in community, they like to get drunk, get high and sleep around. It helps them forget the past—a horrific past full of painful memories. At times just one bullet to the temple away from a self-inflicted death, James and Jake fumble through life, tormented and haunted by the demons of their residential school abuse.
The decision by one man to publicly disclose his abuse causes upheaval within the community and forces other victims to consider their options: either share their secret and begin healing, or maintain their silence and suffer alone. Raw and gripping, Porcupines and China Dolls is impossible to put down.
"Porcupines and China Dolls uses narrative to uncover unrelenting truth that pierces through individual differences to the empathic core of common humanity. Alexie’s statement that words “can’t describe shit like this” is extraordinarily powerful. Although the agonizing abuse of characters set in Aberdeen, Northwest Territories was much more widespread than demons of alienation and shame led them to believe, immense supernatural power was required to impel them to purposefully acknowledge what occurred in the dark places where they were confined as children. Alexie’s insistence on expressing the horror that the Residential School system wrought in First Nations communities is poetically magnificent. The “shit” is seeing your children taken away, “knowing their brown bodies were going to be scrubbed by white hands . . . knowing they were going to be forever ashamed . . . knowing they were going to cry that night . . . knowing it was going to sound like a million porcupines screaming in the dark . . . knowing there was not a thing you can do about it.” With the double-entendre inherent in the protagonist’s use of sex and intoxication to bury the self-directed question “who’re you,” Alexie is a blacksmith pounding the English language until it can be put to his own purposes."
Porcupines and China Dolls, by Robert Arthur Alexie Book Review. By KevinfromCanada.
Book reviews of contemporary literary fiction and modern classics. By The Mookse and the Gripes