These days, most of us live lives almost completely divorced from the hard, unpredictable work of keeping ourselves warm and fed. Most of us get our food from grocery stores and restaurants. We flip a switch to turn on the lights or fiddle with a knob to turn on the heat or the cool to adjust the temperature of our living spaces. But on the Canadian reservation where Evan Whitesky lives, in Waubgeshig Rice’s Moon of the Crusted Snow, he and his relatives and band members live closer to the land. And when the power inexplicably goes out—seemingly forever—life on the Anishinaabe reserve is about to get even closer to the bone.
When we meet him, Evan has just shot a moose for his family. His worry about keeping everyone fed for the winter is assuaged, at least for the moment. Getting the body back home is a bit of a struggle, but he manages. The Whitesky family has food. They’ve good firewood. They’re in good shape. He’s still a little anxious about his brother, but he’s mostly content. Within 24 hours, however, the power from the nearby dam goes out. Evan gets a little more worried. Still, they have a generator for emergencies and food and diesel trucks are schedule to arrive in about a week.
At first there’s no need to panic or even ration—until two young members of the band arrive on snowmobiles after fleeing the town where they were going to college. The power went out there, too, and no one can get in touch with the government in Toronto. Things go quickly to hell and the two men barely manage to escape. After they turn up on the reserve, an unsettling white man turns up and asks for a place among the Anishinaabe. Justin Scott says he’ll be an asset to the band, but he doesn’t feel right to Evan. Before long, Scott becomes as much of a problem for Evan and the rest of the band as hunger and cold do.
Moon of the Crusted Snow is a brief tale of survival against a terrifying opportunist and against the elements that touches on cultural reclamation, self-determination, language, and faith. These touches elevate the book from simple dystopia to an opportunity for the Anishinaabe at this reserve to, perhaps, return to their ancestral way of life. Do we cheer? Do we lament the terrible price that was paid? The open ending of Moon of the Crusted Snow has no answers for us. Instead, it leaves us with some very interesting questions to think about long after we finish the last page.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 2 October 2018.