The Inuit of Canada's sub-Artic Hudson Bay are tough people. Throw tragedy after tragedy at them and they endure, if not with a sunny disposition, at least with the feeling that life is a thing to be survived, a constant battle with nature for your very existence. At least that's the way it seems to be for Victoria, the protagonist of Kevin Patterson's poignant debut novel (after a memoir and a short story collection), Consumption. After suffering a bout of tuberculosis that takes her away from her family for six years while she recuperates in a sanatorium, she returns to her home of Rankin Inlet, a place she no longer understands. Though the old hunters, including her father, have all come off the land and live in homes now, Victoria still hungers for more knowledge of and connection to the outside world as she knew it when she lived in the south. She marries a Kablunauk (white person) and settles down to raise her family as best she can in a tiny, once-isolated community that is becoming a place where cultures clash. Her son longs to live off the land and hunt with his dogs, while one daughter falls in love with Axl Rose on satellite television and the other folds into herself in ways that are hauntingly familiar to Victoria. A diamond mine mars the tundra and Victoria's family is beset by hardships that tear it apart. All the while there is no one for Victoria to turn to whether her own people or the whites who have come to the village, including the doctor from New York who delivered all her children for comfort. This is a heart-rending tale of the ways things change from generation to generation in a family and a society. While change sometimes comes at a dizzying pace, there are some things that stay the same, like the enduring strength of people whose ancestors lived on the land and survived unfathomable hardships. Sometimes it seems there is not much difference at all between tough-as-a-glacier Victoria and her ancestors.
Sarah E. White writes from Arkansas.