________________ CM . . . . Volume V Number 3 . . . . October 2, 1998

cover The Secret of the Northern Light.

W.P. Kinsella.
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 1998.
199 pp, paper, $14.95
ISBN 1-895449-85-5.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Joanne Peters.

***1/2 /4


"Whew!" says my friend, Frank Fencepost, "that waitress must have sprayed on her perfume with a crop duster."

I have to agree. We just come out of the restaurant on the Interstate in North Dakota, not too far from where we are heading with our precious cargo. The perfume was thick as hair spray in the air, make us both cough and clear our throats.

The precious cargo is riding in an air-conditioned animal trailer attached to the GMC King Cab that is pulling it. Me and Frank been hired to drive right through, eighteen hours straight, to Fargo, North dakota. We don't have a key to the animal trailer, there ain't even a window for us to peek inside.

What's "the precious cargo" in that air-conditioned animal trailer? Why the secrecy, hanging as heavy as hair spray? And that title: "Bleaching the Buffalo"? Twists, turns, revelations and ironic reversals characterize the 12 inter-connected stories comprising The Secret of the Northern Lights. The book is vintage W.P. Kinsella - set mostly in and around the fictional Ermineskin reserve, somewhere in Alberta, (with occasional side trips to such events as the Commonwealth Games). The book features Silas Ermineskin, apprentice to medicine woman Mad Etta (Margueretta Black Horses), and his best buddy, "Brother" Frank Fencepost. Frank is a trickster and Silas, a shaman-in-training, with plenty to learn about the sacred, the profane, and the great grey area in between. The stories are wonderfully crafted, taking situations which are sometimes ordinary (how to divide up an estate amongst eight surviving and feuding children), sometimes poignant (a father kidnaps his daughter from his estranged wife in order to save the girl's life with traditional medicine), and sometimes tragic (a 19-year-old hangs himself, and his friends are left to consider the impact of his suicide on his mother). Amazingly, there is humour in all of these situations. Sometimes it is slapstick, sometimes subtle, and occasionally very dark, indeed. But don't just take my word for it. Read and learn The Secret of the Northern Lights, and other secrets as well.

Highly recommended.

Joanne Peters is teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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