PEOPLE LIKE US IN A PLACE LIKE THIS
Volume 11 Number 5.
Philip Kreiner's small collection of short stories, People Like Us in A Place Like This, offers insightful glimpses of the unfocused tension that exists between the white and Eskimo populations living in the Arctic. In the title story, interesting even though it suffers from having to cover too much ground in too little space, Kreiner seems to lay a foundation for his readers. The point of view in this story is first person; the action is observed through the eyes of an anthropologist who finds himself in a remote spot called Little Whale River, ostensibly researching "the origins of the surnames of the people of the Little Whale River Band." The work seems curiously recondite, and the reader suspects that perhaps even today only the real eccentrics (and native Eskimos) find themselves in the Arctic. When the narrator becomes involved with his roommate's former girlfriend and indulges in purely recreational sex, the reader discovers that preparation for the bizarre and unpredictable may be the key to life north of the treeline. The woman is lonely, abrasive, and intense and the narrator/protagonist must attune himself quickly to her set of values:
I'm frightened by her intensity. I hadn't
There is the discovery for the reader that anxiety may be a way of life in the Arctic—for Eskimo and white alike.
When the protagonist encounters native sensitivity and suspicion while investigating an Eskimo massacre (by whites) that occurred over sixty years earlier, he must tread cautiously. He has two native guides to take him to the location of the massacre. They threaten to kill him, but say finally, "We could kill you, you know. But we're not going to. It wouldn't do any good now. Not like before." At the end of the story, there is no suggestion that the tension will be resolved, simply the cold finality of the Indian's admonition, "Don't tell lies about us." And then after a pause comes, "Too bad you don't understand." The conclusion reminds the reader that harmony is more than understanding, though that might be a step, and that there are certain differences that are irreconcilable.
My favourite story is "That Year My Father Died." It is very short, much more tightly controlled and should be popular if anthologized in future collections that feature young writers. The story focuses on innocence and experience in a young Indian boy's struggle to cope with his father's death and the change that whites introduce to alter a valid and serene way of life. Because of its subtlety and modest style, the story has an integrity all its own. It possesses a certain engaging charm, and we should look forward to future offerings from Kreiner. I am sure he will not disappoint.
James Kingstone, Ridley College, St. Catharines, ON.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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