Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Reader's Diary #1963- Tanya Tagaq: Split Tooth

"The drunks came home rowdier than usual one night, so we opted for the closet. We giggle nervously as the yelling begins."

The above sentences from the very first page of Tanya Tagaq's debut novel Split Tooth reveal a lot about what the rest of the book will be like. Obviously there's real life drama, but there's also some laughter. More importantly the book is a challenging read despite appearing on the surface to be straightforward. (More than a few people I know have remarked that they finished the book, slightly less than 200 pages, in one sitting.) What's so difficult about the above passage?

The tense switches from past tense to the present without any warning. It speaks loudly about the power of memory, for sure, but Tagaq and/or her nameless protagonist have an interesting relationship with time that may be the key to understanding other intents. "Time," she writes later on, "has a way of eternally looping us in the same configurations."

I found myself dwelling on this quite a bit. So much so that in a chapter dated 1978 when she mentions wearing acid washed jeans and a colour changing heat-sensitive sweatshirt and bangs hairsprayed high, I almost convinced myself that this image, clearly from 1988, was intentional. (I'm now more inclined to believe that the fashion description was a mistake and that there's an earlier draft of the book that has it all set a decade later, but this is all a guess on my part and not really vital to the larger story.)

If you've concluded by now that I was confused by this book, you'd be right. If you've assumed that I didn't enjoy the book, however, you'd be way off base.

It may be interesting to note that I was reading Tagaq's book simultaneously with Louise Penny's A Fatal Grace, a book far more traditional by CanLit's colonial standards, and enjoying them both. A fan of Tagaq's music as well, I knew enough to not expect anything easy or necessarily comfortable. She once wrote on Twitter, "I'm not weird you are just boring." I'll also note that Split Tooth incorporates a lot of traditional Inuit stories and spirituality, both of which I've only had passing (but fortunate) encounters with.

Still, there was enough of a plot that I could discern (it's actually similar to the origin story of Nelvana of the Northern Lights- can we please start a petition asking Tagaq to revive and reclaim that comic book heroine?) and the more artistic experiments and philosophies gave my brain a much needed workout. I'll be dwelling on it for some time.

1 comment:

Buried In Print said...

It took me a long time to feel like I understood what I felt would have made this a wholly impressive reading experience; I sat on my review for the Shadow Giller until I felt like I had figured it out (and some of it had to do with marketing decisions but some of it to do with the way that some of the passages, like the one you mentioned, felt like they had been rushed through an editing process). As you say, though, there is a lot to admire and appreciate!