Floating. Poetic. Grief. Kaitlyn Purcell’s ʔbédayine
For our second Good Short Review we took a look at Kaitlyn Purcell’s ʔbédayine, and not just because she was our guest editor for antilang. no. 5. ʔbédayine truly encompasses our mandate at The ALP for Good. Short. Writing. as it comes in at a tight 88 pages and is the 2018 winner of the Metatron Prize for Rising Authors!
Kaitlyn Purcell’s debut book is, on a surface level, a story about a young Indigenous woman navigating her traumas (past and current) primarily set in Edmonton. However, Ronnie is not defined by her trauma, nor is she lost in her grief. While she appears to distance herself from both by relinquishing her agency through drug use, Ronnie opts into treating her life with equal weight as her dreams. This enables her to float above her actions and relay them plainly.
Metatron’s blurb on the back of the book refuses to categorise Purcell’s work as a novel, or other western categorizations of narrative. Instead, the book’s first readers and reviewers reflect on the poetic nature of this work. At antilang., we really enjoy genre blurring, and Purcell does this with a fresh nuance that allows narrative to coexist with deep attention to detail and restraint. Instead of letting her characters or the story to take over, she balances all elements of writing so that each component lifts all others. For example, pages 46-50, “2C-i Times Three” describes what is simultaneously one ongoing drug trip and multiple drug trips separated across weeks or months by repeating the same images so that each page is both a deterioration and distillation of the previous. This technique of repetition is used throughout the book and gestures to the looping experiences of trauma and grief and the coping mechanisms used by the narrator, Ronnie.
Purcell’s book is a contemplation on the implications and fallout of extended grief. A reader cannot ignore Ronnie’s subject position as a Dene woman cut-off from her cultural roots–a severance caused by colonial violence and enacted by community members in Fort Smith. Ronnie’s trauma is evident throughout the work, starting with the blank spaces between words on page 1. But the book refuses to dwell on her trauma, letting it exist as one aspect that leads Ronnie to her relationships with various people and drugs. The narrative is Ronnie’s search for solace from her grief and her attempts to imagine a world that does not end.
ʔbédayine is available NOW from Metatron Press