Waubgeshig Rice's new novel is Moon of the Crusted Snow, which Eden Robinson has called "Chilling in the best way possible." In this post, Rice tells us about the book and shares some of the titles that influenced him as he wrote it.
Moon of the Crusted Snow is about a northern Anishinaabe community faced with a crisis in the wake of ongoing healing from the impacts of colonialism. It’s a post-apocalyptic story about a people that have already endured the end of their world. A widespread blackout shakes the community to its core, but its residents eventually learn it’s a much more catastrophic and violent event in cities and towns to the south. Soon, foreign visitors from those places come into the community to seek refuge, and eventually, attempt to impose their own control.
While the story explores post-apocalyptic and dystopian themes by modern North American standards, it’s also looks at upheaval as a chance for rebirth and renewal for the Indigenous people at the centre. As modern infrastructure disintegrates, the Anishinaabeg in Moon of the Crusted Snow turn to the land, culture, and traditional knowledge for survival. Family and community are at the heart of their existence and their ability to persevere in the midst of this chaos. It’s also an allegory for colonialism, and considers important historical context as it relates to modern-day Canada.
Here are some of the Canadian books that inspired the story, including some of the influential stories I read while writing this novel.
The Lesser Blessed, by Richard Van Camp
Reading this story about growing up Indigenous in a northern place validated a lot of feelings and experiences I had being a rez kid. The protagonist, Larry, is trying to find his place as worlds collide around him. It’s an essential novel about the young Indigenous experience, how colonialism has ravaged culture, and the hope that continues to shimmer in the spirit of family and community.
Monkey Beach, by Eden Robinson
At the core of many Indigenous cultures and communities are strong families who’ve managed to remain happy and healthy despite the terrible things that have been imposed upon them. Monkey Beach is a beautiful exploration of that powerful resilience in the face of yet another tragedy and ongoing struggles. I read it early in my writing journey and it was one of the first times I felt like I saw my own Anishinaabe family in a book.
Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese
This story about a hockey-playing residential school survivor reminded me that many Anishinaabeg today are only a few generations removed from life on the land rich with language, culture, and ceremony. It was relatively recently that those crucial elements were violently attacked in communities across what is now Canada. On the other hand, it’s extremely inspiring that culture is still alive, and that life on the land isn’t too far away.
Celia’s Song, Lee Maracle
A common theme in many novels by Indigenous authors is resilience and the importance of family, as echoed in each of the above works. But what Celia’s Song also taught me was how to capture and convey traditional stories in respectful and effective ways. The Nuu-chah-nulth family in this story turns to their culture to find a path to healing, while learning and exploring their old stories.
The Marrow Thieves, Cherie Dimaline
Indigenous people who’ve been colonized have already endured apocalypse, and this crucial new read lays that out in the most commanding way. It’s already received immense accolades and is probably due many more. This novel has laid the groundwork for an important new discourse about post-apocalyptic fiction and the importance of considering the genre through an Indigenous lens.
In the Cage, by Kevin Hardcastle
Rural stories are often overlooked in modern Canadian literature, and this novel comes punching from those margins. Following a retired mixed martial arts fighter as he steps back into the world of fighting and while trying to step away from crime, this story takes place close to where I grew up. It empowered me to further give voice to characters far from cities, where survival takes on a quite different meaning.
The Illegal, Lawrence Hill
When I read this novel it was a significant departure from most other stories I was reading at the time, but it was exactly what I needed. My new novel is my first foray into speculative fiction, and Hill's story took me to a far-off, fictional land dealing with similar impacts of colonialism and what happens when the oppressed are faced with crucial decisions.
This Accident of Being Lost, by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
Anishinaabe stories and experiences are the foundation of this modern collection that explores new ways to fortify and immortalize culture. These poems and prose teach why it’s important to hold on to Anishinaabe storytelling while stepping on a literary path. It’s a document and a testament to the modern Anishinaabe reality and how we can reclaim our spaces.
Sounding Thunder: The Stories of Francis Pegahmagabow, by Brian D. McInnes
Disclaimer: I wrote the foreword to this book, and it’s about an important historical figure from my home community of Wasauksing. It was written by his great-grandson, who’s also a mentor to me. That aside, reading stories about my community and my people as told through generations of key figures has been vital to my own storytelling and writing process in recent years. This book did just that for me.
A daring post-apocalyptic novel from a powerful rising literary voice
With winter looming, a small northern Anishinaabe community goes dark. Cut off, people become passive and confused. Panic builds as the food supply dwindles. While the band council and a pocket of community members struggle to maintain order, an unexpected visitor arrives, escaping the crumbling society to the south. Soon after, others follow.
The community leadearship loses its grip on power as the visitors manipulate the tired and hungry to take control of the reserve. Tensions rise and, as the months pass, so does the death toll due to sickness and despair. Frustrated by the building chaos, a group of young friends and their families turn to the land and Anishinaabe tradition in hopes of helping their community thrive again. Guided through the chaos by an unlikely leader named Evan Whitesky, they endeavor to restore order while grappling with a grave decision.
Blending action and allegory, Moon of the Crusted Snow upends our expectations. Out of catastrophe comes resilience. And as one society collapses, another is reborn.
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