Publisher: Knopf Canada
Source: Personal Copy
35-year-old Maggie is recently widowed, her mother has just passed, and her teenage son is becoming increasingly distant. Virgil is still struggling with his father’s death, and the fact that his mother is never home. Maggie took on the responsibilities of becoming the chief of Otter Lake when her husband passed. She has held the position of chief for three years now, her husband was the previous chief and she felt that she needed to finish what he started. Maggie didn’t realize how taxing this role would be, the people she governed were always around, and never fearing to voice their opinions of what needs to be done. Upon Lillian’s death, John, a white man, riding a vintage Indian Chief motorcycle came to town to say goodbye. No one knows their history, but everyone is curious about him. Virgil happened to be peaking into his grandmother’s window when he noticed the two of them kissing passionately. Virgil was shocked and told no one. Since Lillian has passed, John has stuck around, and Maggie has been spending more and more time with him. Virgil is suspicious of John, he knows that there is more to him and worries about his mother, he decides to enlist the help of his Uncle.
John, is an Ojibway trickster. In Ojibway mythology, the trickster is a shapeshifter and cultural hero. It’s very interesting to see this character take shape throughout the novel.
I really enjoyed Motorcycles and Sweetgrass because it is humorous, yet touches on some heavy subjects. Drew Hayden Taylor doesn’t shy away from the topic of residential schools, alcoholism, drug abuse and generational differences within Native American communities.
Lillian, Maggie’s mother was sent away to residential school. She witness the abuse from the priests, was forbidden to speak her language, and she turned to the religion she was taught. She decided to play the game, and accept the changes in her life. Before religion Lillian use to think that there was magic in the world, for many years she only believed in the religious figures. While coming to terms with her imminent death, Lillian decides to believe in the magic once again, and calls upon John to come to town. She’s worried about her family, Maggie most of all.
Motorcycles and Sweetgrass is a very unique and interesting piece of literature. I really enjoyed the sense of community, and the family bonds. The mythology makes the story that much more intriguing, and multidimensional. Motorcycles and Sweetgrass is Taylor’s first novel, but he is also a stand-up comedian, playwright and journalist. He has worked on some television series and documentaries. I highly recommend this one. This one is a great example of impressive Canadian literature.