cover image The Break

The Break

Katherena Vermette. House of Anansi (PGW, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $16.95 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-4870-0111-7

Vermette’s piercing debut novel (following the poetry collection North End Love Songs) begins on a cold, snowy night, when Stella, a young Métis woman, looks out her window and witnesses an attack on a girl out on the Break—a tract of isolated land in Winnipeg’s North End. Frightened, she calls 911, but the girl and her attackers scatter into the night. The next day, the full weight of the situation is revealed: Emily, the 13-year-old daughter of Stella’s cousin Pauline, has been viciously assaulted and raped with a beer bottle. This is not a typical crime story. It is instead a harrowing mosaic, the fragments of which reveal the stories of Emily and her extended family, a young Métis police officer working on the case, as well those of the girls who attacked Emily. The story paints a broad picture of a family separated and brought together again, in different capacities, by varying forms of grief—and of another family, that of the perpetrator, shattered in ways seemingly impossible to mend, by drugs, crime and violence. Vermette portrays a wide array of strong, complicated, absolutely believable women, and through them and their hardships offers readers sharp views of race and class issues. This is slice-of-life storytelling at its finest. Agent: Marilyn Biderman, Transatlantic. (Mar.)