CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 7. . . .October 16, 2009
T.D. Thompson's first novel, Flight of the Wild Geese, is the complex and emotionally intense story of 15-year-old Dave's healing journey into the Alberta foothills, a journey that teaches Dave about himself, community, spirituality and acceptance. After the frozen body of Dave's estranged mother, Marie, is found in the ravine near their family home, it becomes apparent that she had been living a hard life on the streets of Edmonton. Dave narrates the novel in first person, and he is quick to dismiss his own grief when he compares it with the reaction of his father, Mike. Caught up in his intense sorrow, Mike decides to take his son out into the bush to live, as Dave puts it, "like the Indians in the old times," in order to find a way of dealing with Marie's death. Marie was Cree, but Mike has no Aboriginal ancestry; he is "a sort of born-again Indian." Mike has a strong respect for the First Nations cultures and traditions, but "he knows he's not native, and he has a special disdain for people who take on some Indian-sounding name and pretend to be something they're not."
There is a recurrent motif of roots in the novel that suggests the importance of drawing identity from spiritual connections rather than a reliance on genetic ties. When Dave and his father set out on horseback to live in the bush, they are begrudgingly accompanied by their extended family, including the Aunts (Helen and Edith who are Cree elders), the Aunts' nephew Jamie, and 19-year-old Lisa, a strange girl whom Dave had never met. Lisa, as it is later revealed, is Dave's maternal half-sister who was placed in foster care as a child. Dave's extended family is created from informal adoptive bonds that rely on emotional connections rather than blood-ties. The Aunts have no evident biological relationship with Dave and Mike. Instead, they assumed their role as extended family when they saw a need for their support after Marie left. While Dave initially denies their familial bond, their experiences in the bush make it overwhelmingly apparent that, regardless of what Dave says, these people have become his family.
Armed with the guidance of the adventurous elders, weekly supply top-ups from Mike's friend Pete on his snowmobile, parkas and sleeping bags, the group sets out on their healing journey. Cut off from the life to which he is accustomed, Dave soon falls in love with the mysterious Lisa and imagines she feels the same. It is clear Dave's father is keeping a secret, but Dave does not know what it is until Jamie, overcome with feverish delusions, reveals that Lisa is Dave's half-sister. While the reader may have suspected this revelation, it is understandable that Dave was completely unaware and is shocked. Dave, propelled by the clouded thoughts brought on from starvation, the madness of betrayal and a broken heart, runs away from the camp. After Dave loses his shoes and sleeping bag, his body slowly begins to succumb to the cold. As Dave drifts in and out of consciousness, he is visited by his mother in the form of the majestic mountain lion that he had shot and killed weeks earlier. Dave's mother warms him until he is rescued by Mike and Pete. Once Dave is found, there is a break in the chapter. When Dave resumes narration, he is looking back at the experience from a few weeks later, and he briefly meditates on the changes the trip produced in his family.
Beth Wilcox is a Master of Arts in Children's Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.