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“Why do you place such haunting red hand prints throughout all of your paintings?” asks one character to another in ‘Skull.Full.Of.Rust’ one of the many short stories in Dene author Richard Van Camp’s latest collection, Night Moves.
With his words, Van Camp yet again paints brutally beautiful images of the Northwest Territories.
Night Moves brings together many of Van Camp’s best-loved characters — like Larry Sole and Juliet Hope from his first novel The Lesser Blessed (which is perhaps the best Canadian Lit novel I have read to this day) — and tosses them into new situations.
The collection is also partly a continuation of the Fort Simmer series, which is based in a fictional town inspired by Van Camp’s hometown of Fort Smith and appears in his other collections Angel Wing Splash Pattern, The Moon of Letting Go and Godless But Loyal to Heaven, and is a seamless transition to one of his newer projects a graphic novel series called Wheetago War, which shares the same name as the short story in this collection.
For readers who are familiar with Van Camp’s earlier work, this book is an absolute dream. If Night Moves is your first introduction to Van Camps’s world, his sexy, seedy prose will beg you to read more. [editor’s note: you should go read more. Now.]
Night Moves opens with the hard-hitting piece ‘Bornagirl,’ which tackles the issue of transphobic violence from an unexpected perspective. Instead of taking the point of view of the victim, Brian, the reader gets inside the conflicted mind of Kevin, Brian’s attacker, as he tries to beat out his internal guilt and emotions externally.
“To me, it’s more interesting if it’s actually the bully… It’s such a heartbreaking story, you just have to be careful with who holds the power. Ultimately, it’s the young woman who holds all the power in that story at the end,” said Van Camp in a phone interview with rabble.
As everyone in Fort Simmer tries to understand who Brian really is, Kevin struggles inside himself to understand why he took such violent measures. We see a flawed human being where the reader would typically see a mere monster. Inspired by the Stars song ‘Winter Bones’, this story takes the reader into the winter of Kevin’s soul, and finds some rather chilling skeletons in his closet.
In ‘I Double Dogrib Dare You,” our protagonist, Grant, is speaking to Valentina, a woman that he adores, a woman he (and subsequently, the reader) believes to be magic. “I might as well confess all of my night moves to you,” he says to her after confessing that he performed secret love rituals for her.
Van Camp says the title is a reference to the Bob Seger song “Night Moves,” which is his father’s favourite song. However, it has many different meanings to Van Camp. “‘Night Moves’ is such a loaded term; it’s such a great title. Most of these stories take place at night and if they don’t they certainly take place at the night of each person’s soul.” But most obviously, “‘Night Moves’ is such a sexy title,” he says. It is certainly a sexy title for a sexy book.
Thematically, Van Camp’s characters often find themselves at a crossroads, struggling to figure out which direction to take. “I love characters at the crossroads and I love it when they make horrible decisions. I also love it when they make great decisions,” said Van Camp. “Stories are really boring when everybody figures it out early and just does the right thing.”
Van Camp’s characters are suspended in time and place, trapped in Fort Simmer, the macabre Métis capital of the North. Some of my favourite characters like Juliet Hope, Larry and Jazz the Jackal from the The Lesser Blessed remain unchanged even after nearly 20 years have passed since readers first met them.
Let’s take Larry Sole, for example, who appears in Night Moves in the story ‘Where are you tonight?’ I’ve always admired Larry, who, although he has seen and done some horrific things in his short life, he has remained idealistic and hopelessly romantic. He finds hope through his love for Juliet Hope.
In ‘Where are you tonight?’ Larry thinks of Juliet “They say love is a thunder and I feel it in my everything for you. My love for you is so loud it’s practically bubonic.” Flashback to 1996 and Larry remains virtually unchanged. “There was only her, Juliet. And I adored her seven dreams deep.”
Reading more about Larry in Night Moves felt like revisiting an old friend, the kind of friend that gives you a sense of comfort and consistency when everything else around you is changing.
Night Moves is billed as “a window into the pain and potential of the Northwest Territories” and this dark space where pain and potential clash is where Van Camp works most comfortably. “There’s a new kind of darkness in the Northwest Territories,” said Van Camp. “I am drawn to the underside of the Northwest Territories… That’s where the juice is for me.”
Over the past 20 years, Van Camp has taken so many risks with his writing, and still continues to do so , pushing himself and the reader outside of their comfort zone. “I always love the raw. I love darkness and I love courage, and I love bravery and I love people who risk everything with their writing. That’s what I love and I know immediately when I’m reading it.”
Van Camp’s readers will know it immediately too.
Lauren Scott is a fourth year journalism student at Carleton University and an editor at The Leveller. She is a book junkie with a particular fondness for Canadian literature. Follow her on Twitter @laurenscawt