Time, notes Eden Robinson, offers its own creative energy. “One of the gifts of getting older,” she says, “is that I’ve rediscovered my sense of humour. It was always there, but when I was writing my first collection of short stories [Traplines, from 1996] I really was a goth. And then, with Monkey Beach, I was very earnest and very serious.”
The writing of her recently released third novel, Son of a Trickster, she adds, “was less intense, but it was the same kind of immersion.…This is as sunny as I get.”
A riff on the “sometimes scandalous, but always funny” Trickster myths she heard growing up, the book tracks 16-year-old Jared Martin through his exploits in and around Kitimat, B.C. Loyal to his divorced and addicted parents, Jared occupies a narrative landscape where his sought-after marijuana baking coexists alongside telepathy and monstrous human-otters.
According to Robinson, Trickster tales were traditionally “designed to teach children about our protocols, about what it was to be a good Haisla person. By breaking all of the rules, and showing you how horrific the results could be,” she says by phone from her Kitamaat Village home, “the Trickster was a bad example.”
The recipient of the 2016 Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award, Robinson garnered wide acclaim for her debut novel, Monkey Beach, which won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and was a finalist for both the 2000 Giller Prize and Governor General’s Award. Reflecting the banes and boons of family, her portraits of youths at hinge moments are marked by their claustrophobic moods and flares of violence. (Once, at an event, after she read a passage from her 2006 novel, Blood Sports, “it was dead silent. And no one asked questions,” she says, laughing. “Everyone ran away. It wasn’t what they were expecting.”)
Like her other novels, Trickster began as a short story. Told from the point of view of the Trickster Wee’git, “our transforming raven”, the vignette described his dalliance with a girl at the All Native Basketball Tournament. This 2,500-word project “was going to be just a really light, fluffy story to amuse people,” Robinson says. “And then I just kept going and going and things kept adding on, and I realized it was a novel.
“I was like, ‘Ah, okay.’ Then about 400 pages into it, I realized that I hadn’t even got to the heart of the story.”
The current book focuses on Jared and is the initial volume of a trilogy on the adolescent’s misadventures. Robinson compares her daily efforts on the manuscript, and its forthcoming installment, Trickster Drift, to “watching your favourite TV program. I had a lot of fun writing it,” she says. “It was a hoot. When it got crazy, it was probably undercaffeination.”
Just as her aesthetic tone has shifted, so too has Robinson’s method of writing fiction. Forgoing cigarettes and 14-hour stretches at her keyboard, she now rises early and works for an hour or two, postcoffee, before attending to obligations away from her desk. “Usually, I had a whole ritual—things I ate, things I drank—but when you’re compressed, you don’t have that luxury. I’d read a bit and then hop right in.”
As the plot progresses, and Jared faces the ill health of his kind neighbours and encounters an old woman who is more than she appears, the magical elements emerge. Explaining the fantastic, Robinson writes, “Did you ever pour a little Elmer’s glue onto your hand, spread it around, wait for it to dry and then peel it off? Once it dries, the glue holds a clear imprint of the lines of your palms. Imagine our universe is the dried glue. All the beings on earth and in the sky, all the endless blackness of space, all the heavens in their great spinning chaos, everything we know exists in this thin copy of a completely different layer of reality.”
While Monkey Beach followed a teenage girl’s search for her missing brother and flitted between the terrestrial and spirit realms, Trickster giddily embraces its supernatural streak. Experimenting with self-invented and established cosmologies, Robinson suggests, was her primary motivation for writing the novel.
Still, “the things that I’m interested in haven’t really changed, but my approach to them has,” she says. “The books that I’m writing now grew out of that person [who wrote those previous books]. They’re reflecting the same material through different lenses, and the different lenses are my different ages and my different life experiences.”
Eden Robinson will discuss Son of a Trickster at a Vancouver Writers Fest Incite event on Wednesday (February 22) at the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library.