Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
History, legacy, identity, family, and community are all at stake against the backdrop of the modern world coming quietly to an end in Waubgeshig Rice’s slim, but powerful, novel Moon of the Crusted Snow (2018). Survival isn’t just an issue of preparation here — in order for any one person to thrive, the community must be strong; in order for the community to survive, each person must contribute unselfishly. Human nature being what it is, unfortunately, that’s often easier said than done.
As winter draws near, Evan Whitesky and many other members of his small Anishinaabe community are stocking up supplies, food, and firewood. The electricity, television, and phone services the reservation receives from nearby Canadian suppliers aren’t always reliable, so the tribal council places an imperative on being as self-sufficient as possible. But when all contact from the outside world is suddenly shut off and the weather grows increasingly dangerous, this normally-insular community finds itself set upon by white Canadians escaping the chaos to the south: people with no respect for tribal traditions, laws, or language. Their intrusion causes rifts within the Anishinaabe families and places a strain upon their carefully-stored food, and as the winter drags on with no sign of relief or assistance, tensions reach their breaking point in a horrifying repetition of historically-similar events.
Evan is an intelligent, capable, steadfast man: he loves his partner, Nicole McCloud, and their two young children, Maiingan and Nangohns, more than anything in the world. The scenes in which they or Evan’s parents teach the children about Anishinaabe stories and traditions are heartwarming without becoming cloying, and clearly come from a genuine desire to keep their culture alive despite outward pressure to leave it all behind. Evan and Nicole are each portrayed realistically, and Rice uses his own experiences growing up in an Anishinaabe community to bring their world to life: people swear, they smoke, they fight, they cling to one another in the bitter cold. It’s initially not that big of a deal when cell phones stop working, because simply having access to cell services is a relative novelty. Groceries are exorbitantly expensive at the lone store, because who’s going to make the corporation sell goods at the same low prices they use off-reservation? It’s a realistic, honest portrayal of modern life on “the rez,” the likes of which should be seen far more often in all genres of fiction, and which is uniquely well-suited to post-apocalyptic speculative fiction.
Rice has a deft hand throughout Moon of the Crusted Snow; he interweaves traditional Anishinaabe storytelling, like the story of how Nanabush accidentally created lichen while learning a valuable lesson about not being greedy in his preparations for winter, into a modern narrative about an isolated community teetering on the edge of dissolution, while also drawing on the historical and repeated tragedies of First Nations peoples’ forced relocation, reeducation, and continued ostracization by (predominantly) Europeans to inform his modern-day allegory. The world might be ending for the first time for people who don’t live on the reservation, but there are living members of Evan’s community who know first-hand what it’s like for literally everything to be taken away from them, including their language and culture. The people most likely to survive are the ones who can adapt to change while embracing the teachings of their forebears.
My only real quibble was that, near the end, a chain of events occurs in which a key character’s fate could use just a little more explanation, in order for the final chapter to achieve full emotional resonance. But that issue aside, Moon of the Crusted Snow is a powerful, timely novel, and Rice is an author to watch out for. Highly recommended.
Reallly like the sound of this (on the wish list)—thanks!
I know what I’m asking for for Christmas! Thanks for introducing this book to us, Jana.
You’re both very welcome! Bill and Marion, I think you’ll each enjoy this one in terms of both story and story-crafting, if that makes sense.