I mentioned in my review of The Break that it was a finalist for the Canada Reads discussion, which just happened two weeks ago. The panel consisted of Candy Palmater defending The Break, Humble the Poet defending Fifteen Dogs, Chantal Kreviazuk defending The Right to be Cold, Measha Brueggergosman defending Company Town, and Jody Mitic defending Nostalgia.
The question the panel addressed this year was as per usual, “Which book does Canada need to read right now?” And I was extremely disappointed and rather angered to see The Break voted out in the first round – so Canada doesn’t need to be reading about Indigenous experiences and prejudices or sexualized violence against women in a time of Trump and Canada’s 150 year anniversary and history of residential schools and imposed pipelines here and there?
Instead, apparently we need to be reading Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis, which is about fifteen dogs that are granted human intelligence by the two gods, Hermes and Apollo, and one god bets that none of the dogs will die happy. . . . I’m sorry – but really?? Canada needs this now?? Fifteen Dogs is at most a social experiment and philosophical musing over questions like what is human intelligence? What is love? What is thought? What is freedom and individuality? It’s an interesting concept and there’s nothing wrong with it at all, except for the fact that the judges deemed this to be the book that Canada must read now! Someone please explain this to me.
On top of that, some of the judges were offended that The Break’s cast of characters were 90% female, and that the book largely leaves men out or paints men in a bad light, either as a rapist, a bad gang member, a druggie, or an absent or abusive father/boyfriend.
Firstly, The Break purposely centres around the Indigenous women of a close-nit, four -generational family. It’s not a surprise, it says it right there on the back: “The Break shows the resiliency of Indigenous women, and the unwavering power of family love.” So if you’re offended there’s not enough male characters in it, then you’ve missed the whole point of the book. Not to mention, it’s the women who are often being left or abused by their significant others, so no wonder they’re the only ones who are left and therefore, unfortunately, most closely involved with these kinds of stories.
Secondly, there are men in it, they’re just more on the periphery. We’ve got Tommy the police officer, desperately trying to find the perpetrator and bring some kind of peace to Stella’s family. Then we’ve got Lou’s teenage son, Jake, who is just as equally disturbed and emotionally affected by the incident, and tries to find his own ways to deal with it. And we have Emily’s crush, Clayton, and his questionable acquaintances. And there’s Phoenix’s uncle, Bishop, who although has had bad dealings in the past with drugs and gangs and jail, we at one point we see him with his girlfriend Angie, and their baby, Alexandria, sitting on the couch – the closest representation of a stable social unit in this whole book, oddly enough.
Thirdly, I don’t even know why I’m defending the fact that men aren’t as represented in The Break as much as women are, because God knows women have been largely absent from human history and literature since the dawn of time, yet we don’t see this being a reason to vote out a book in a 2017 literary discussion. In fact, Fifteen Dogs itself is dominated by male characters, and Candy Palmater points out during the discussion that the few female dog characters in it are mainly seen through the eyes of the male dogs, and are of course the ones to die first, leaving the book to focus around several lead male characters – even though Fifteen Dogs is supposed to be exploring aspects of humanity, and last I checked, women constitute 50% of humanity – not to mention the many other kinds of genders out there besides men and women – yet again we have a piece of literature that focuses almost solely on male characters. If I were those judges, I’d be more offended by Fifteen Dogs’s lack of female perspectives since it promises the exploration of humanity as a whole.
Not to mention, besides The Break, two of the other three books had far more relevant topics than Fifteen Dogs. The Right to be Cold explores cultural misappropriation, residential schools, and climate change from an Arctic community’s perspective. Company Town deals with futurism, artificial intelligence, and the rights of sex workers. In terms of answering the question of which book Canada needs right now, I would have to say Nostalgia was probably the least relevant of all the contenders, even more so than Fifteen Dogs, so I’m glad it didn’t win, though it does sound interesting.
Anyway, my overall point is that Fifteen Dogs should not have been the rightful winner of the 2017 Canada Reads, and from what I’ve read on social media, it seems many other people would agree.
Who do you think should have won?