By Bianca Dubois
CW: Violence, SA, Rape, Racism, and Addiction.
The Break, written by Katherine Vermette, is a contemporary generational story in the North End of Winnipeg. Vermette being from the North End and Metis herself can describe the violence and prejudice of being indigenous with painstaking realism that is difficult to read at times. The Break is her first novel and takes a dark, gritty, and heartbreaking look at the harsh realities facing urban indigenous women.
Throughout the book, we follow four generations of Metis women and the fractured lives they lead, with Vermette weaving each character’s storyline with grace and utmost respect. The novel begins with a violent assault of a teenage girl within the family. The family at the heart of the story has suffered a lot, including murder, addiction, homelessness, and assault. As the reader, we witness their dynamics and various responses to the violent assault that has occurred. Meanwhile, one lone male protagonist contrasts the other perspectives as a Metis police officer interested in the case. We follow the large cast of characters from the initial assault to the conclusion of the investigation.
Throughout the book, the reader is introduced to the duality of Metis culture. The various protagonists idealize the old way of life outside the city and view it as a healthier option. Each character considers leaving the city’s violence for a simpler existence; however, most of them realize this way of life is no longer obtainable. As Metis, they are stuck in between two different worlds. They are therefore not a part of either and experience prejudice from both white and indigenous peoples. However, through the darkness of the content of this book, there is a shining light that is family. Each woman is deeply connected to her family. They lean on each other while dealing with the atrocities they face.
Vermette does a marvelous job at showcasing violent antagonists that commit despicable acts. However, even they can be pitied due to their circumstances and tribulations. However, these antagonists are condemned by Vermette, not more than the systems and societal views that allow these circumstances to exist.
I am thrilled to read this novel based in my hometown as it is a part of my heritage. Some passages were harrowing to read and made me reconsider the opposing views of these neighbourhoods by the general population of Winnipeg. I witnessed the levels of prejudice Indigenous people face in life, including racism from medical staff and police officers. However, the strength displayed by each character was heart-warming to read as they held each other up through everything they faced. Still, this book had some negatives as I was not invested in all the storylines, and a few characters felt a little flat. Therefore, I rated this book 4/5 stars. I would recommend this book to all Canadians and anyone interested in urban indigenous issues.