Five generations of Métis women argue, dance, struggle, laugh, love, and tell the stories that will sing their family, and perhaps the land itself, into healing in this brilliantly original debut novel.
Carter is a young mother, recently separated. She is curious, angry, and on a quest to find out what the heritage she only learned of in her teens truly means.
Allie is trying to make up for the lost years with her first born, and to protect Carter from the hurt she herself suffered from her own mother.
Lucie wants the granddaughter she's never met to help her join her ancestors in the Afterlife.
Geneviève is determined to conquer her demons before the fire inside burns her up, with the help of the sister she lost but has never been without.
And Mamé, in the Afterlife, knows that all their stories began with her; she must find a way to loose herself from the last threads that keep her tethered to the living, just as they must find their own paths forward.
This extraordinary novel, told by a chorus of vividly realized, funny, wise, confused, struggling characters—including descendants of the bison that once freely roamed the land—heralds the arrival of a stunning new voice in literary fiction.
About the author
Michelle Porter's first novel will be published by Penguin Canada in 2023. Her first book of poetry, Inquiries, was shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award in 2019 and was a finalist for the E.J. Pratt Poetry Award in 2021. Her previous non-fiction book, Approaching Fire (2020), in which she embarks on a quest to find her great-grandfather, the Métis fiddler and performer Léon Robert Goulet, was shortlisted for the Indigenous Voices Awards 2021. She is a citizen of the Métis Nation and member of the Manitoba Métis Federation.
Winnipeg Free Press’s “15 books to watch for in the first half of 2023”
"Michelle Porter’s novel, A Grandmother Begins the Story, is charged with huge blasts of imaginative force—magical in every way. In this novel, divided families come together, there are wise bison, and dogs with opinions, an Indigenous family history spanning generations. Here is heaven and then, what the rest of these vivid characters must contend with, life on earth, with all its splendor and heartbreak. Porter is sometimes knee-slappingly funny, sometimes wry, poignant, nuanced, and gleefully irreverent. But this novel is full of reverence for the most important things: music and stories. Porter’s characters are tough and tender, courageous and flawed, and so true to life you’ll go back to the beginning as soon as you turn the last page, because you can't stand for it to be over. Michelle Porter’s voice is unique, uber-alive, utterly gorgeous. Just, WOW!"
—Lisa Moore, award-winning author of This is How We Love and Caught
“A Grandmother Begins the Story will leave you forever charmed and soulspun. What a vision. What courage to blow a hole through all expectations of what a story can be and how it's told, and what a masterwork from a voice I'd follow anywhere. This is why we read and this is why we write: to discover places and voices and visions like these.”
—Richard van Camp, award-winning author of Godless but Loyal to Heaven and The Moon of Letting Go
“Deeply imaginative and utterly captivating. Michelle Porter’s storytelling pushes genre boundaries in a way that will surprise and delight readers. The prose is tight, and the characters are unforgettable. I don’t think I understood the term “unputdownable” until now.”
—Carleigh Baker, award-winning author of Bad Endings
“This is a work of vocal magic. Through richly drawn characters and vibrant echoes of oral traditions old and new, Michelle Porter shows us the true breadth and resonance of Métis kinship, complete with the gifts and the hurts that move up and down the generations. There is simply no other story like it.”
—Warren Cariou, award-winning author of The Exalted Company of Roadside Martyrs and Lake of the Prairies: A Story of Belonging
"A weeping birch grows in front of my house. Its leaves hang down on long, thin branches that, leafless, look like hair. When the sun is out and the winter air stirs, the sun’s rays passing through these branches break into shifting patterns of shadow and light over the house. When I was reading A Grandmother Begins the Story in my front room, that moving light passed through the prismed edge of the front door window and broke into rainbows across the page and they danced with each other and the darkness between them over the writing. I don’t need to find the words to tell you that a story can change the way you belong to the world. Nature and Michelle Porter have done that for me. And they will for you, too."
—Richard Harrison, award-winning poet, author of On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood
“Unique. . . . Heavy ties of interdependence energies run through these characters, both human and more-than-human, simultaneously. These are exciting stories attached to the land with identifiable characters that could be one's family members, and it's the land that holds the story and hand of the grandmothers who lead the herd and hold space for life and story after them.”
—Marilyn Dumont, award-winning poet, author of The Pemmican Eaters and A Really Good Brown Girl
“[A] chorus of five generations of Métis women whose stories weave together in joy and anguish to tell the story of a family struggling to persevere.”
—Winnipeg Free Press