The characters of Moccasin Square Gardens inhabit Denendeh, the land of the people north of the sixtieth parallel. These stories are filled with in-laws, outlaws and common-laws. Get ready for illegal wrestling moves (“The Camel Clutch”), pinky promises, a doctored casino, extraterrestrials or “Sky People,” love, lust and prayers for peace.
While this is Van Camp’s most hilarious short story collection, it’s also haunted by the lurking presence of the Wheetago, human-devouring monsters of legend that have returned due to global warming and the greed of humanity. The stories in Moccasin Square Gardens show that medicine power always comes with a price.
To counteract this darkness, Van Camp weaves a funny and loving portrayal of the Tli?cho? Dene and other communities of the North, drawing from oral history techniques to perfectly capture the character and texture of everyday small-town life. “Moccasin Square Gardens” is the nickname of a dance hall in the town of Fort Smith that serves as a meeting place for a small but diverse community. In the same way, the collection functions as a meeting place for an assortment of characters, from shamans and time-travelling goddess warriors to pop-culture-obsessed pencil pushers, to con artists, archivists and men who just need to grow up, all seeking some form of connection.
“Richard Van Camp knows how to tell stories about the closest matters of the heart and the deepest mysteries of the cosmos... What unites each story in the collection is a belief in the good humour and strength of humanity, at least if we can pull ourselves back from the brink of self-destruction... Van Camp makes it clear that he’s not waiting for intervention from above to solve our problems.
“This whole collection is a fight,” he says, “a fight for better leadership, a fight for an unwounded planet, a fight for an undoomed future, a fight against molesters, a fight against 28-year-olds still living at home yelling at their moms if their laundry isn’t done.” - Charlie Crittenden, Daze Magazine, May 2019
“...fierce and funny... this superb storyteller is among the Indigenous authors every Canadian should know.” - Susan B. Cole, Now Magazine, June 2019
“Reading Van Camp’s stories is like sitting around the kitchen table, sipping strong tea and listening to the aunties share some really good gossip. And, like that gossip, you need to pay attention because he is saying just as much in his silences as he is with his words.”
“Richard Van Camp grins mischievously at us from the 10 stories that make up his latest collection, Moccasin Square Gardens. By turns playful and intimate, sobering and brash, the stories take us through Van Camp’s vision of Indigenous people in the 21st century, showing how their communities are adapting to and warding off the “after-effects” of colonial life.
The collection bears Van Camp’s signature style – a deft touch in crafting first-person narratives that allow us to float among his characters’ various states of mind and voices... In being taken up by the speculative, spiritual and secular themes explored by this collection, and by floating among Van Camp’s created worlds, readers will alight on stories that transcend and elude the everyday, finding a rich and varied storytelling tradition that is both illuminating and thought-provoking.” - Cheryl Suzak, Globe and Mail, June 10, 2019
“Van Camp’s keen ear for dialogue and lithe storytelling breathe hope and humour even into the darkest corners of human existence. His boldest, most compelling collection yet.”
”The conversational tone will keep you gobbling up the pages. This book reminds us that Van Camp is an essential voice in Canadian Indigenous literature, a vital group of writers and activists who are driving our literature and our people forward. Don’t forget to read to the end for a knock-knock joke and a beautiful little poem that crystallizes the work, a prayer for the past, and for the future that is starting right now.” - Paul Falardeau, The Ormsby Review, July 11, 2019
“... an essential Indigenous voice in Canadian literature. In Moccasin Square Gardens, a collection of 10 short stories, Van Camp brings humour and specificity to stories about the modern lives of Indigenous Canadians…They’re funny though, promise!” - Kathleen Newman-Bremang, Refinery29.com, June 2019
“An eclectic mix of stories, sometimes irreverent and occasionally scarifying....."Super Indians," one of the strongest stories... has the wise-cracking attitude of early Sherman Alexie... Van Camp can tweak this approach to make it more compassionate, as in "The Promise," in which two boys practice pro-wrestling moves on each other to help cope with their fathers' absences. Or he can reshape it into bleak horror, as in a pair of stories in which global warming unleashes an army of demons called the Wheetago.. Van Camp is mainly concerned with everyday lives in the region where he grew up in the Northwest Territories, and he can give everyday experience a Thurber-esque charm… Van Camp seems capable of bringing glints of humor to nearly every predicament, be it world-ending or just day-wrecking. Straight talk and dark fantasy from an underappreciated corner of North America.” - Kirkus Reviews, July 2019
“...Van Camp’s new stories are diverse in style and subject matter, but they are tied together by an uncompromising morality: they all illustrate the urgent need for humans to eschew the greed and selfishness that drives so much of their lives...two stories in particular will chill you to the bone, incite panic and move you to treat the Earth better. Lying in Bed Together and Summoners. These two stories are terrifying, but there are many hilarious scenes in this collection, as well as tender ones. Van Camp keeps readers on their toes with these shifts in genre and tone, but he employs just the right amount of tension so it never feels like one style overtakes the others. This book is a real treat, one that Van Camp clearly put much of himself into, and with such skill.” - Alex Mlynek, Broadview Magazine, June 20, 2019
“Richard Van Camp has gleaned the old in the new. He holds the endangered precious out, and shows us where it is kept.”