Find me one person that doesn’t like Richard Wagamese’s books. Seriously, that person doesn’t exist. In the can-lit book circles, talking badly about Wagamese’s writing would be sacrilegious. And really, just plain stupid, because he is amazing at what he does. If I was an aspiring writer wanting to read a book that universally praised, I would pick up a book that Wagamese has written, because it is one of those prime examples of a well-written story. And it’s not one of those books that everyone says is great, and then you pick it up and don’t like it, but are too embarrassed to tell others that you don’t like it because you’re worried you just didn’t understand it. You will understand his books, and you will read a particular sentence that is so powerful that it will force you to look up from the page and stare at the wall for a few moments because it was so affecting.
I had the pleasure of meeting Wagamese a few years ago when his last book came out: Indian Horse. He read a portion of his book for a Freedom to Read Week event, and for the few people in the room that didn’t have tears running down their cheeks, the remainder sat awestruck in their seats, too stunned to look at anything in particular. It was one of those moments that I felt lucky to have experienced, and after suffering through many terrible readings in my life, this one confirmed for me why I bothered even attending them anymore; because every once in awhile, you’ll come across a gem like this, which makes it all worthwhile. This is why the arts are so important to people, why the telling of stories is so important to every culture-because it brings us together, even when we least expect it.
Medicine Walk is a focus on stories as well. It’s about a 16 year old boy, forced into manhood early as he was raised in a foster home, on a farm. His biological father Eldon contacts him throughout his childhood, however the few times they do see each other typically end in disaster because Eldon is an alcoholic, and cannot keep his promises to his son Franklin. When Eldon summons his son to him for the last time, it is a request to take him deep into the bush, and bury him like a warrior (sitting up) as his death draws near from liver failure. As they travel through the wilderness together, Eldon tells Franklin the story of his own life, and eventually the story of Franklin’s mother.
So, not exactly a light read. Wagamese’s books are always pretty heavy, but based on his childhood experiences (getting taken away by Children’s Aid and moving through foster homes), it’s not surprising that serious topics are something he prefers to write about. However, the healing balm of nature is also a common theme in a lot of his work, and like many of us, he turns to the outdoors for solace and comfort. That’s another wonderful aspect to this book-the beautiful descriptions of the mountainside the two characters travel.
Writing that will move you, descriptions that will paint a vivid picture, and character descriptions that will leave you haunted and wanting more-those are just a few reasons to pick up this book, but don’t take my word for it-buy it and find out for yourself.