At the height of the Great Depression, two Prairie children struggle with poverty and uncertainty. Surrounded by religion, law, and her authoritarian father, Cora Wagoner daydreams about what it would be like to abandon society altogether and join one of the Indian tribes she's read so much about. Saddened by struggles with Indian Agent restrictions, Hunter George wonders why his father doesn't want him to go to the residential school. As he too faces drastic change, he keeps himself sane with his grandmother's stories of Wîsahkecâhk. As Cora and Hunter sojourn through a landscape of nuisance grounds and societal refuse, they come to realize that they exist in a land that is simultaneously moving beyond history and drowning in its excess.
About the author
Meredith Quartermain is a poet and novelist living in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her first book of poetry, Vancouver Walking, won a BC Book Award for poetry; Recipes from The Red Planet was a finalist for a BC Book Award for fiction; and Nightmarker was a finalist for a Vancouver Book Award. A novel called Rupert's Land was released by NeWest Press in Fall 2013. She has since published a collection of stories entitled I, Bartleby, in 2015, and a novel, U Girl, in 2016. She is also cofounder of Nomados Literary Publishers, who have brought out more than 45 chapbooks of innovative Canadian and US writing since 2002. From 2014 to 2016, she was Poetry Mentor in the SFU Writer's Studio Program, and she has enjoyed leading workshops at the Kootenay School of Writing, The Toronto New School of Writing and Naropa University. In Spring 2020, her latest collection of poems, Lullabies in the Real World, will be released as a part of the Crow Said Poetry Series.
Excerpt: Rupert's Land (by (author) Meredith Quartermain)
They're following a line of willow trees beside a field of plants with yellowing tops. He stops, pulls some carrots. Wipes dirt off on his pants, bites into a crisp root.
She carries on ahead toward the sheds. Then stands looking back at him with her arms crossed.
He grabs a few more carrots and stows them in his sack. She wants to know which one he thinks is the chicken-house.
Maybe the one with the stove pipe.
Or maybe the one with the flat roof.
She wants to go where she thinks they are, farther away from the house -- says, Let's get some eggs, as though for sure they'll be there, the way for sure yesterday she was gonna shoot a duck.
Chickens'll wake everyone up.
Inside the chicken-house. No-one'll hear them.
She lifts a wooden latch on the flat-roof hut. The walls inside are dirty wood painted white, a metal trough runs down the middle. It smells worse than the school toilets.
Where are the chickens?
Something grunting and hairy runs at them.
Out, out quick.
A blotchy pig butts into them and noses into their legs and into his sack after the carrots.
Can't get the door open. (He yanks it against the pig.)
Don't let it out.
They push the door shut on the grunting animal.
Across the yard, he lifts a rusty hook holding the door on the stove-pipe hut.
Black and brown birds crouch on shit-coated poles. He tries not to breathe through his nose. A row of boxes hangs on one wall, a metal can with pockets dangles by the muddy window. He slides on fresh chicken shit, and grabs onto the cold iron of a rusty stove. She's already at the boxes, stinky dust clouds rising from her steps.
He edges over to the boxes, and puts an egg in his sack.
Don't put them in there, they'll get broken. Put them in our pockets.
A black-and-white hen and a gold one hop down from the roost. They shake their red flappy skin at the dangling can, croaking and bucking, eyes this way, eyes that way. Shaking the red skin hanging from their beaks.
Something puffed and spiky red with fat legs and a tail like a clump of bulrushes flaps from behind the stove.
Ouch. What's it doing?
The rooster squawks and claws at their legs -- blood-red face around its fat beak. She tells it to back off and they kick it away, making it run around filling the room with dust and feathers till it lands on the stove top and shrieks its morning call.
His pockets are full of eggs.
She grabs at a chicken; it flaps away.
We should get out of here before someone comes.
We can put it in your sack.
She reaches for a speckled hen on the perch. The rooster lands on the girl's back, beating its wings and pecking at her head.
Get that thing off me.
He grabs the hanging bucket and pushes it at the rooster.
The hens crowd in behind the stove. He lets go of the bucket and heads for the door -- ready to go.
She's going for a black one -- the last on the perch -- snatching at its back and then catching hold of its wing as it flaps away. Hunching over it, she traps it on the shit-specked pole. Stuck there now, looking over at him.
Get it by the leg.
She lets go with one hand and digs for a leg. The bird kicks and scrabbles beating its wings against her face till she gets its feet and holds it upside down away from her, brushing her face against her sleeve and spitting out feathers.
I guess we should kill it.
Kill it later.
He pulls the sack over the bird.
The rooster runs at them, nicking his legs.
Okay -- go.
He bangs open the door and they run past the well pump to the wagon track along the row of trees.
The rooster lands on the well-roof and screeches.
Praise for Rupert's Land:
"Canadians are - very belatedly - starting to come to grips with the reprehensible treatment of First Nations peoples in their history and its legacy of pain in the present; Quartermain's novel contributes to that process."
~ Publishers Weekly
"The background of despair is familiar from writers like Sinclair Ross, but the way Quartermain brings an age to life while staring unflinchingly at its attitudes and injustices through the eyes of children is reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird. The same innocent intelligence that characterizes Scout in that novel informs Cora's and Hunter's acute observations, conveyed in a blend of pitch perfect dialogue and inner voices."
~ Margaret Thompson, The Coastal Spectator
"Quartermain's background in poetry is evident in the novel's lyricism. The imagery is vivid ... the picture Quartermain paints will stay with you for some time."
~ Megan Moore Burns, Quill and Quire
"Rupert's Land is as vast as it is packed."
~ Laurie D. Graham, Alberta Views
"Tragic, and perhaps redemptive."
~ Pat Mackenzie, subTerrain