2017’s Son of a Trickster is the first volume of Eden Robinson’s Trickster trilogy.
Jared Martin might look like just another a drifting loser high-schooler. Look closer and you’ll see a First Nations kid who’s dealing with more than he should be expected to handle. Look even closer; if you have the sight, as his maternal grandmother does, you might have reason to think that he’s really Wee’git, the trickster.
She’s not entirely right but she’s also not entirely wrong.
His parents divorced after moving to Kitimat. Jared lives with a mother who despite her many foibles — not least of which are her anger management issues — is more responsible than Jared’s father. She’s highly protective of Jared. This protectiveness takes odd forms, from actively supporting his low-level career as a purveyor of pot-laced cookies to encouraging him to learn how to use a pistol properly1.
Jared’s commercial efforts are not self-centered. Disabled in an industrial accident, Jared’s father squanders his disability checks. It falls to Jared to cover his father’s back rent. If not for Jared’s efforts, his father’s new wife and her pregnant daughter might be homeless.
His family is not slow to recognize Jared’s excessive sense of responsibility; his stepsister leaves her child with Jared for safekeeping (without warning) and his mother vanishes on a lengthy road-trip, trusting Jared to keep the lights on and the mortgage paid. It’s a big ask for a grade ten kid.
At least he somehow has a girlfriend. Sarah Jaks is Jared’s next-door neighbour’s granddaughter and although she’s a bit mortified to be dating such a heteronormative, politically deaf Nickelback fan, Jared is better than nothing. Granted, Sarah has epic issues of her own, but Jared is clearly the lucky one in the relationship.
If only he didn’t keep seeing disturbing visions. If only he didn’t see them when he was perfectly sober. If only supernatural otters weren’t scheming to eat him.
Many contemporary fantasy readers may be taken aback by this CanLit approach to fantasy. Yes, there are honest to god supernatural entities in this (not just the Trickster and his ilk, but extradimensional tourists intent on licking Sarah’s enticing brain2) but those are merely the frosting on Jared’s crap sundae. If the author waved away the supernatural elements, Jared would still be having a terrible time of it.
In fact, most of the book focuses on the mundane challenges Jared faces, in a way that might land it on high-school reading lists if not for the author’s energetic use of vulgarity — never a good thing from the perspective of a teacher wanting to avoid confrontations with easily upset parents — to the teenage promiscuity — see previous note — and rampant drug and alcohol abuse.
Robinson depicts Jared’s travails with deft prose that may set an unreasonable standard for speculative fiction, which so often prefers more plodding fare. Fans of more traditional spec-fic may also be alarmed by the ease with which the characters can be distinguished merely by their speech habits. And … there’s a disturbing absence of fifty-page infodumps (3). Nevertheless, seasoned spec-fic readers may find that time spent reading this novel is time invested wisely.
1: Note for US readers: casual gunplay in our nation’s schools is frowned on in Canada.
2: This is not all that good for her.
3: To be fair, Jared would have been much better off if someone had sat him down and carefully explained who and what he was and how to deal with it. Well, someone does try, but Jared turns out to be curiously unwilling to listen. How odd that an alienated teen resists listening to adults.