To read Joseph Boyden's Through Black Spruce is to peer through a window into a quintessentially Canadian, and poignantly Northern Ontarian world. The novel, which explores human descent into revenge, violence and brutality, illuminates the rich and often desperate lives of the Cree and Ojibwa nations who, against all predations, still pursue traditions and lifestyles that in the end are their salvation and legacy.
The voice Boyden's uses is stark, simple, elegantly First Nations, and because of that acts as a sharp foil to the darker, convoluted story that is told through the dual voices of Annie and Will Bird. Each of them attempt to rescue the other through their stories and through the raw honesty of their experiences. In some ways, the dual-narrative acts as confessional, so that the reader understands that beyond the sharp edges of their actions, and the crimes committed by and upon them, there is in fact the mitigating grey of justice no court of law can assess.
Through all of this is a high-strung, fever pitch tension that nearly screams at you to flick to the next page and the next, so that you find yourself breathless and anxious, dare I say it, even obsessed by the haunting quality of this story.
More than deserving of the Giller Prize, Through Black Spruce is an excellent read, and worthy of the investment of time and emotion.