TORONTO — A weed cookie-dealing stoner teen may not seem like your typical hero, but the fictional high school burnout proves he's got plenty of heart in Eden Robinson's "Son of a Trickster."
The coming of age novel is the first in a decade for the acclaimed writer, who grew up in Haisla territory near Kitamaat Village, B.C. Her last fiction title, "Blood Sports," was published in 2006.
"Son of a Trickster" (Knopf Canada) offers an offbeat mix of humour and heartbreak in what Robinson describes as a "screwball gothic."
The story centres on 16-year-old Jared, who is shouldering burdens most kids his age couldn't fathom.
After his parents divorce, his mom, Maggie, is struggling to pay the mortgage and keeping company with a drug-dealing boyfriend. There's also the matter of tending to his ailing dad, Phil, and helping his stepsister, Destiny, with her little one.
While trying to support his family, Jared also makes time to help his elderly neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Jaks, who cared for him while his mother was in anger management.
"(With) the earliest versions of him, what always came through was his sense of wanting to belong to a family, and creating families when he didn't have any, and not wanting to let go of any of his connections. So he would do a lot of keep them," said Robinson, whose debut novel "Monkey Beach" was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award.
"Another part of the origin of the novel was when you're living in the small company towns you see how precarious employment can be," she added. "When everyone around you loses their job, and it's not just your family, it's your community that's kind of being shuttered when a big company closes.
"I just wanted to explore that in fiction because I don't think it's a story that's told a lot; and if it is told, it's told in passing, it's not given as much weight."
Jared maintains a loving relationship with his paternal grandmother, Nana Sophia. He receives a far chillier reception from his maternal grandmother, Anita Moody, who brands him a Wee'git, or "trickster."
While skeptical of the label, he starts to think twice when ravens start speaking to him, and he encounters elements in the supernatural world even when he's not under the influence.
Robinson's mother is Heiltsuk, but the indigenous author grew up in her Haisla dad's community where it was common for grownups to gather around the kitchen table sharing Wee'git stories.
"Wee'git in our culture is a character that teaches you about protocol, about the way we behave, about what we do, and how we related to people. But he teaches you that by breaking all the rules," Robinson said, erupting into her signature, hearty laugh.
"He's a very transgressive character. So his stories are always funny, crazy, and usually quite earthy."
"Son of a Trickster" is the first in a planned trilogy from Robinson. By the conclusion of the first novel, there appear to be signs that Jared's frayed familial bonds — particularly with his frosty grandmother — could be on the mend.
"The process for forgiving yourself, forgiving other people is challenging, and he's willing to do that and a lot of other people aren't. So, I thought I would explore that in fiction and see where everything went."
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Lauren La Rose, The Canadian Press