The final novel from Richard Wagamese, the bestselling and beloved author of Indian Horse and Medicine Walk, centres on an abused woman on the run who finds refuge on a farm owned by an Indigenous man with wounds of his own. A profoundly moving novel about the redemptive power of love, mercy, and compassion--and the land's ability to heal us.
Frank Starlight has long settled into a quiet life working his remote farm, but his contemplative existence comes to an abrupt end with the arrival of Emmy, who has committed a desperate act so she and her child can escape a harrowing life of violence. Starlight takes in Emmy and her daughter to help them get back on their feet, and this accidental family eventually grows into a real one. But Emmy's abusive ex isn't content to just let her go. He wants revenge and is determined to hunt her down.
Starlight was unfinished at the time of Richard Wagamese's death, yet every page radiates with his masterful storytelling, intense humanism, and insights that are as hard-earned as they are beautiful. With astonishing scenes set in the rugged backcountry of the B.C. Interior, and characters whose scars cut deep even as their journey toward healing and forgiveness lifts us, Starlight is a last gift to readers from a writer who believed in the power of stories to save us.
About the author
Richard Wagamese (1955–2017), an Ojibway from the Wabaseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario, was recognized as one of Canada's foremost First Nations authors and storytellers. His debut novel, Keeper 'n Me, came out in 1994 and won the Alberta Writers Guild's Best Novel Award. In 1991, he became the first Indigenous writer to win a National Newspaper Award for column writing. He twice won the Native American Press Association Award for his journalism and received the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature for his 2011 memoir One Story, One Song. In 2012, he was honoured with the Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media and Communications, and in 2013 he received the Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize. In 2015, he won the Matt Cohen Award, a recognition given out by the Writers' Trust of Canada that honours writers who have dedicated their entire professional lives to the pursuit of writing. In total, he authored fifteen books including Indian Horse (2012), the 2013 People's Choice winner in CBC's Canada Reads competition, and his final book, a collection of Ojibway meditations, Embers (2016), received the Bill Duthie Booksellers' Choice Award.
Excerpt: Starlight (by (author) Richard Wagamese)
Starlight sat back on his heels and watched them run. In the flush of moonlight they appeared as bursts of shadows between the trees. The lope and bend of them. When they hit the glade the leader dropped into a low prowl, the ears of him flat to the skull and his snout pressed close to the ground. The rest of the pack stayed in the clasp of the trees. The big one swayed his head around then raised his muzzle and sniffed at the air and for a moment fixed his gaze on the man on the rocks then dropped his head like a nod and padded out deeper into the open. The other wolves bled out of the shadow and stood around him. Waiting. In the luminescent blue of the moon Starlight could see the huffed clouds of their breathing. They sat back on their haunches, tongues lolling like dogs, and when they flexed their jaws he could hear the smack of their tongues on canines, sharp and feral, and the piercing whine and whimper of wolf talk. The alpha male sat like a stone, staring intently at the rocks. Starlight felt the hot muscles in his thighs but held his pose, staring back at the humped shadow of the wolf in the glade. He breathed through his mouth. The big wolf raised his head and swivelled it to catch the wind and when he was satisfied he stood, and Starlight was impressed at the size of him. The wolf walked slowly across the front of the rocks and the others trailed behind him, and when he broke to a trot they picked up the pace silently. Starlight waited until the last of them was gone and then slid out of the rocks and began to run behind them.
He ran easily. Like a wolf. He bent closer to the ground and loped, the slide of his feet skimming through the low-lying brush without a sound, and when he found the pace of the pack he angled off through the trees and took a parallel tack to them, keeping them on his right and dodging the pine and spruce easily, his night eyes sharpened by use. He ran with them, the scuttling pace easy after the first three hundred yards.
They broke up the side of a ridge and he could hear the push of their hind feet loosen the talus and he followed the tumble of it up the hard slant. It was a tough climb but he ran it. When he breached the top he saw them gathered in the trees. The big male looked back over his shoulder. Starlight could see the shimmer of his eyes and he felt pinned by the look. He stopped and stood against the open light of the drop. The empty sky behind him. The moonlight. There was nowhere to move so he stood there and breathed and waited and watched the wolf, who kept his eyes on him and opened his mouth and let his tongue droop and huffed his breath so that for a moment it appeared to Starlight as though he laughed, and then he turned his head and studied the trees on the flat. The others sat patiently. None of them looked back. The leader rose slowly and arched and stretched and the others followed suit. Then they broke. In unison. He marvelled at that, the ability to communicate with thought, the language of them hung and shaped on the power of intention, and when they were twenty yardsgone he broke into the lope again and followed.
The landscape rolled easily through the coniferous jut and the running was uncompromised by brush. Instead, there were sprinkles of holly and swatches of mountain grass and here and there the plunked forms of fallen trees, decaying trunks he leapt in a single bound while he kept the relaxed prowling pace of the wolves.
He carried nothing but a small pack on his back. He wore no gloves despite the chill and his clothing was loose and warm. His shoes were stitched together out of moose hide and laced tightly. The soles of them were thick pads of felt and he could feel every poke and thrust of the territory he crossed and the tracks he left were mere outlines. The shoes functioned as wrapping for his feet so that the feeling was of being barefoot but protected. They enabled him to run quietly. His hair was short and cropped close to his head, severe like a military cut. There was nothing to catch or snag, even his trouser legs tucked neatly into the tops of his shoes and the sleeves buttoned tight to his wrists. He ran parallel to the wolves and he made no sound.
They angled sharply suddenly and propelled themselves in a hard zigzag up a cut of ridge. It was lightly treed and there were hamper-size rocks and boulders strewn about and he found himself having to clutch and grab at saplings to pull himself upward while he ran. He followed their path. His lungs ached and the muscles at his calves protested and his thighs and buttocks burned at the push but he pressed on. The hardscrabble face of the cut was inches from his face and he could smell the lichen on the rocks. Dry. Dusty. Metallic almost. He angled his feet to grab more of the face and strained harder against the gravity he felt upon him like a weight. The wolves crested the ridge and disappeared. He took deeper breaths and forced his muscles to work and he could feel the tension in his neck and shoulders. When he finally stepped quivering onto the lip of the ridge he was spent and leaned forward with his hands on the top of his knees and breathed through his mouth and peered through the top of his eyes to locate the wolves.
They lay on a sloping boulder that poked out over the far edge. The moon behind them like a giant shining eye. The alpha male was the only one sitting and he faced the shimmering orb of the moon with his head slightly raised, like a child wrapped in wonder. Starlight caught his breath quickly and stood to his full height. The wolf turned his head. They regarded each other and the man felt plumbed, known, seen in his entirety, and there was no fear in him, only calm like the unwavering gaze of the wolf leader. The wolf stood. He swept his gaze back and forth across the star-dappled blanket of the heavens and Starlight followed the look. The universe, deep and eternal, hung above them: solemn and frank as a prayer.
The wolf sat again and appeared to study the panorama. Then he raised his snout and yapped a wailing howl at the face of the moon and the stars thrust out around it. It was high and piercing, and it brought the others to their haunches and they all stared at the great silvered orb. Starlight slumped the pack from his back and took out a camera body and a long lens and screwed them together quickly. He sidestepped so that he could see the wolves in profile. They never moved. The dozen of them like acolytes at a shrine. He knelt and focused on the leader and breathed with his finger on the shutter. In the frame he held the pocked face of the moon and the head of the alpha wolf. When the leader raised his muzzle Starlight pulled the focus tight, and when he opened his muzzle to howl he let him yap the first syllables and then pressed the shutter on a rare and personal moment. The wolves turned at the whir of it. They studied him. He caught them in the viewfinder with the full moon behind them and snapped another. They watched him. Then they turned their attention back to the heavens and began to howl. He felt it in his spine. He felt in his belly. He disassembled the unit and tucked it back into the pack and slung the bag on his back then turned and walked to the lip of the ridge again and stepped down without looking back. The howl of them, ancient, powerful. They followed him back down into the night.
Praise for Richard Wagamese and Starlight:
"Starlight feels fully formed. . . . The prose is both musical and hard-edged, bending to match the rhythms of life in the wild, on the farm and in the desolate skid-row bards of distant cities. A captivating and ultimately uplifting read, and the last we'll enjoy from on of our best writers." —Toronto Star
"[A] triumph. . . . This is an important story to know and to experience, from an artist cut down at the height of his powers." —Winnipeg Free Press
"A wonderful and moving story, both tragic and hopeful." —Regina Leader-Post
"What Wagamese does with this novel is set stunning scenes and deliver a moving story about the power of family even if it is an accidental one." —Vancouver Sun
"Richard Wagamese divined the secrets of human scars and knew that broken people are the strangest and most extraordinary people of all." —Louise Erdrich, New York Times
"Wagamese manages the nuances of betrayal and redemption with uncommon artistry. Medicine Walk is a breathtaking novel of sorrow, hope and polished steel." —Thomas King, author of The Inconvenient Indian.
"He is such a master of empathy—of delineating the experience of time passing, of lessons being learned, of tragedies being endured—that what [his characters discover] becomes something the reader learns, as well, shocking and alien, valuable and true." —Jane Smiley, Globe and Mail
"Richard Wagamese's writing is sweet medicine for the soul." —Richard Van Camp, author of The Lesser Blessed