Annie Muktuk

and Other Stories

By Candace Fertile

by Norma Dunning
University of Alberta Press
2017/$19.95/216 pp.

Norma Dunning’s debut short story collection is sensitive, intelligent and intense. Right from the first story, “Kabloona Red,” in which an Inuit woman knocks back cheap red wine whenever her white husband is away, Dunning writes about authentic experience. The narrators are first person or closely focused third, so the Inuit characters’ confusion and pain as they struggle to maintain individual and cultural identities are felt directly. Unfortunately the battle is rigged—language is suppressed, children are sent to residential schools where they are brutalized in countless ways, and families are torn apart.

In these stories, white characters often behave badly. An RCMP officer marries an Inuit woman, has four children with her and then abandons his family to go back south. In “The Road Show Eskimo,” an Inuit woman falls in love with a man who uses her to further his faltering career, lying about a book he says she wrote and then putting her on display to the university crowd. Again children are born and abandoned.

Strong currents of anger and courage propel the Inuit characters. They are survivors. The title character, Annie Muktuk, appears in several stories, along with Moses Henry, a young man who loves her, and Moses’ best friend Johnny Cochrane, who has gone to university in the south. Annie uses her sex appeal as a weapon. As Johnny says, “She swung both ways and sideways.”

Sex is often a way for women to claim space and power. It is certainly also a way for many of the characters to have physical pleasure. In “Elipsee,” a beautifully tender story, the title character has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and no treatment is working. Her husband Josephee is desperate to help, so they decide to spend the summer out on the land because a shaman has told Elipsee she will find healing by the lake. This story combines the love of a couple for each other with their spiritual foundations, and Dunning has a lovely way of making sex sound fun and natural as the couple kid each other about the intensity of their activity. Josephee thinks, “What a workout, better than any elliptical machine at the gym.”

The stories reveal aspects of Inuit culture, especially language (Dunning uses many Inuit words and includes a short glossary), and show the essential humanity of the characters. Dunning herself is Inuit. In “Husky” she describes a white man who leaves the life of the south, takes three Inuit wives and, after one disastrous trip south with his wives, returns to the north to stay. At the end of the story Dunning adds a note that Husky, whom she knows only through “snippets” of stories, was her grandfather. Overall, I loved this book.

Candace Fertile teaches at Camosun College in Victoria.

RELATED POSTS

November: Poems

A brief introductory note by J. Mark Smith provides an explanatory framework for the poems in Jaspreet Singh’s first collection of verse, November: “November (1984) was the month of mass murder of Sikhs across India. The genocidal violence was orchestrated by high-ranking officials of the Congress Party. Nearly three decades ...

Ranching Women in Southern Alberta

Throughout the history of the western plains, men and the frontier have been mythically and rhetorically aligned. Conquest, settler beliefs held, demanded brute force and rugged individualism. Rachel Herbert’s Ranching Women in Southern Alberta refutes these still-popular myths and writes women back into Alberta’s ranching history “in the earliest frontier ...

Notley Nation: How Alberta’s Political Upheaval Swept the Country

It remains a pleasant shock that Alberta is no longer a political monolith. Why Rachel Notley’s NDP triumphed and how well they are governing have occasioned considerable debate since the election in May 2015. In Notley Nation, journalists Sydney Sharpe and Don Braid—the latter a long-time columnist for the Calgary ...