Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Night Wanderer by Drew Hayden Taylor

I don’t know if you could say that writing about vampires was the thing to do over the last ten years, but the publication history sort of points in that direction. It was heralded in by Stephenie Meyer, whose Twilight Saga generated a lot of popular fiction for young adults in that area. But a writer who is recognized by a Canadian literary community, whether happily or not, followed the trend, too. Which is why Canadian author Drew Hayden Taylor’s The Night Wanderer caught my attention a few years ago, when I picked up a copy at the bookstore and read the subtitle: A Native Gothic Novel. Hayden Taylor’s novel first appeared as a play, A Contemporary Gothic Indian Vampire Story, commissioned by Young Peoples Theatre in Toronto and he wrote it into novel-form at the request of Annick Press for a 2007 publication date.

Set in the Otter Lake Reservation in Ontario, the novel revolves around sixteen-year-old Tiffany Hunter and the much older Ojibwa vampire, Pierre L’Errant. Although Tiffany lives on the Otter Lake Reservation, she also leaves in order to attend school off the reservation. Her home life has changed immeasurably since her mother left her father, and her Granny Ruth moved in to help out in the house. Tiffany’s father has taken in a lodger in the basement, the mysterious Pierre L’Errant who has just arrived from Europe. Tiffany’s answer to the changes that have taken place in her household is to stay away from home as much as possible. She goes to school, hangs out with friends, and goes out with her boyfriend Tony. Tiffany is shown not to have that much ambition, and her failing grades are constantly discussed throughout the novel. Even her Granny Ruth is disappointed in the lack of agency and interest that Tiffany conveys, particularly when she finds Tiffany’s report card: “Granny Ruth read the letter. It was Tiffany’s school progress report – the mid-semester assessment. And it was not good. Tiffany was failing practically everything in school, except art. It was a well-known fact that gym and art were the hardest to fail, but somehow Tiffany had managed to get a failing grade in her gym class.”

But as she finds out more about the mysterious lodger in the basement, and, as a result of her conversations with him, learns more about the area that she lives in and more about the history of her home, Tiffany begins to grow, develop, and mature. Hayden Taylor also creates an opportunity to discuss Aboriginal issues in Canada, and Tiffany’s boyfriend’s abuse of her taxation-free status constitutes a major plot point in the novel. And then there is that gothic thread that runs underneath, drawing the novel into darker and more ominous territory as the story progresses.

I was sold on the book before I read it, just because of Hayden Taylor’s name on the novel. I had read his Motorcycles and Sweetgrass a few years ago, a novel that sort of would rank ridiculously high above this one (it’s really good). Reading a young adult work of fiction by the same author sort of had the reverse effect of what has been happening lately in young adult literature, where literary authors are turning from writing adult books to writing books for young adults, and really exceptional books at that. Hayden Taylor’s didn’t really stand up so well. It’s a fun story and it gets in that nod at the vampire trend while making it into something sort of new, but it still felt like there were a lot more places Hayden Taylor could go, and a lot more of the gothic to mine from an Ontario setting. Still, it was nice to see a Canadian author try the young adult vampire story, and to see it happen on a reservation in Ontario, even if the novel didn't take it too much farther than that.

1 comment:

Espana said...

And am I the only reader to note the moment at which the hero has his hands tied behind his back and then, moment later, removes his shoes? Nice trick