Black Chuck - Regan McDonell

Psycho. Sick. Dangerous… Réal Dufresne’s reputation precedes himself. But except for the nightmares, all Ré remembers is beating the living crap out of Shaun the night of his death. Now Shaun’s girlfriend, sixteen-year-old Evie Hawley, I pregnant and the father of her baby is dead. Their grief and guilt draw Evie and Réal together. But the closer they get, the faster things seem to fall apart. And falling in love might just be the card that knocks the whole house down.

McDonell’s novel is not one that was immediately on my radar, but Andrew Smith asked me if I had come across it, and what my thoughts were. So I am grateful to both Andrew and Orca Books for bringing this beautiful and painful novel to my attention.

McDonell’s background in creative writing and poetry is evident in this excellent debut novel. The pain and angst of each main character is palpable, and the struggles they each face within their individual relationships as well as their shared community as large are real and complex. At first, I had no idea what to think. Would this book be about a supernatural creature? A boy who might be possessed? A town that has a Windigo infestation? It turns out that there's a lot more going on than that, but in the psychological sense more than anything. But much like the work of Stephanie Kuehn, McDonell's narrative will leave readers guessing and wondering what's real and what's not.

The heart of the story, though, is the relationship between Réal and Evie, made more complicated since her boyfriend recently died, and Ré is convinced that he had something to do with it, including possibly eating his deceased best friend. These two characters are brought to life on the page, especially Ré, who is a character I don't think I've really experienced before: he is part French and part Ojibwe*, he speaks three languages, and he holds a lot of secrets inside. He's a character who I felt bad for, cheered for, wanted to slap at times, and who I needed to see find some hope in life.

A strange, brutal, heartbreaking, and strangely uplifting novel about lies, love, friendship, courage, and the struggle to overcome guilt.


(NOTE: This review is from and Advance Reading Copy - Out April 2018)

*There is an author's note at the end of the novel that goes into detail about the history of the Windigo legends, and the research and consultations she did to bring her Indigenous characters to life: "While writing this book, I reached out to many Indigenous people for their help in writing Réal in a sensitive and respectful way, and to them I am so grateful. It is a very tricky thing to write outside of your own culture--I only hope tat I've done it with the care and respect that it deserves."


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