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Matilda Magtree, August 8, 2017
Classed as ‘stories’ on the cover, I began reading Dawn Dumont’s Glass Beads in tiny slivers, a page here, an opening paragraph there, trying to find a story that hooked me, a place to begin since for some reason I didn’t choose to begin at the beginning. The truth is I almost stopped reading because these little snippets of things weren’t grabbing me. All I gleaned was that each story was about very young people and various kinds of young people angst.
But something about Dumont’s writing style kept me reading… just one more snippet, and then another. The rawness of the characters (they felt like people I knew, maybe in some cases people I once was), the way she captures voice and her superb handling of dialogue (which soon begins to feel less like reading and more like eavesdropping), all of it coming across so true… and before I know it I’m flipping to the beginning of the book and starting again from there.
In a nutshell: the stories follow four friends over the course of fifteen years, through the angst of teenhood to the angst of young adulthood.
So what makes it special?
Dumont’s writing. It’s as simple as that.
Also, she taps into a universal feeling right off the bat in the opening story, “Kokum’s House”… with a line about how if you’re told something often enough, no matter how sad….“tears don’t come after a while.”.
The tone of the book is….. let me tell you a story about people.
That the characters are indigenous isn’t incidental.
Not for one moment do we forget these are Native kids growing into Native adulthood and that there are issues, events and problems that are specific to them and to no other culture (starlight tours). But neither do we forget for a single moment that there are issues, events and problems these characters experience that are universal (the floundering of youth, drugs, alcohol and parties), and it’s the way she blends things that gives the book its power.
Dumont has written what might be one of the hardest stories to write, one that features a specific culture (it could as easily be a specific race or religion, a sexual orientation… anything that isn’t WASP and cis-gendered) without shining a light on that ‘difference’ or making the difference the story.
It’s not about being indigenous any more than a story with white characters is a story about whiteness.
It’s about Nellie who is level-headed and wise and not especially the popular one, the one who “… had never worked as a waitress but she had delivered beers to her dad in the big chair.” And Everett, who womanizes and drinks too much and to whom she’s emotionally drawn.
It’s about Julie, whose attractiveness is part of the reason she succeeds and part of the reason she fails.
“What other people wanted came naturally to Julie and they weren’t complimenting her so much as expressing their desire to have it.”
It’s about these indigenous kids looking at Cosmo and Chatelaine, reading about diets and fung shui, just like everyone else.
It’s about Taz who strives to climb the ladder of Native politics and lands a job with the federal government, in land claims. He calls himself a hired gun. “I come in and bury the Natives in paperwork.” He says it pays well but a comment puts it into perspective. “Enjoy that blood money.”
It’s about what works and doesn’t work on reserves. The band that neglects to send tuition, resulting in a student being unable to register for college.
It’s about how there’s a perception that being in the city will be different than being on the reserve, “… he won’t drink in the city because being away from the reserve will allow him to make connections… he would be building things, not tearing them apart. Crow’s Nest was behind him along with all of his sad eyed friends and their growing guts and whining that the chief and council sucked but never doing anything about it.”
And it’s about reality.
“But the people in the city turned out to be exactly like the people on the rez. There was always another party, another reason to turn it up.”
Dumont doesn’t put a glossy sheen on anything. She admits there are problems on reservations, with Native governments, people with all kinds of differing views. There isn’t one Native Culture. But neither does she shy away from softness. The sense of community is strong and comes through.
Toward the end of the book, when the characters are young adults, a more adult focus on what’s happening within communities comes to light. In one scene, men just shooting the shit, eating Chinese food, the tone becomes serious when talk centres around how the Assembly of Chiefs has lost connection to what’s important.
“I see that our people are getting arrested, locked up, committing violence or getting dumped by the side of the road – I see the young kids on the streets wandering – where are their parents? Why aren’t they at home? – like how I was at home at their age, doing my homework, watching TV with my family… that’s where kids should be… because pretty soon they’re not kids anymore, they’re adults and then we’ve lost them.”
Native youth…. youth is what’s important.
“That’s what those fuckers should be focusing on.”
The title, Glass Beads, doesn’t have a corresponding story, leaving me to wonder what the reference is. My interpretation is the idea of trading… what we trade, what anyone trades, for what they hope will be a good life.
And how we forge ahead when that trade turns out not be an entirely a fair deal.
While the stories are stand alone quality, they’re so much more when standing together. For that reason I prefer to think of the book as a novel.
And I would absolutely recommend starting at the beginning.
— Carin Makuz, Matilda Magtree
Saskatoon StarPhoenix, July 22, 2017
Writer, comedian, syndicated newspaper columnist Dawn Dumont is back with her third book, Glass Beads. The cover labels it a collection of stories, but that isn’t the case. For the author of the short story collection Nobody Cries at Bingo and the novel Rose’s Run, Glass Beads is a radical departure.
In a series of mostly dated chapters, Dumont follows the interlocking lives of four young First Nations people living off reserve and trying to make a go of school, work, or just getting by. Like many young people away from home and new to the city, they go through various romantic incarnations and career permutations. But, unlike many young people, for Everett, Nellie, Julie, and Nathan (Taz) there’s always the haunting refrain of race, like a song that won’t go away, accompanying their movements.
Whether it’s internalized inferiority, like Nellie paralyzed with fear when applying for a job amid white people; or spoken and self-protective inferiority, such as a conversation in which one of the group exclaims, “I mean, as if, right? Like he’s gonna take an Indian to some fancy restaurant”; to the usual racism from outside, such as the carpenter asking Everett, “So are you the kind of Indian that works hard or the kind that wastes my f***ing time?”; or the young, white Christians’ questions to Nellie in Central America: “What kind of Native are you? . . . What was the reserve like? Was there a lot of poverty?” and the blithe inquisition that continues. These are the remarks, the observations, the self-evaluations that trail Dumont’s characters wherever they go.
And then there are their own day to day observations of the reality of their lives, from cheap Indian Affairs houses, to Taz asking Nellie, “Why don’t you speak your language?” and working his way to a judgment, to the old, blood quantum debate engineered years ago by the Indian Act so that Taz can say of his friends, “Yup, I’m a real Indian. Not a fake-ass, mostly monias Indian like these ones.” Divide and conquer go the unspoken rules of colonialism, and Dumont’s characters exemplify those old rules still in play.
The quartet work, go to school, party, get into trouble, and have some fun, one becoming a lawyer, one becoming a chief, but, always, as noted by Julie, there’s the anger, the simmering rage that goes with all these debates, all these verbal shots and casual observations: “Nellie blew up all the time . . . but they were small fires, easily contained. Everett just got mad, punched people and then was done … With Taz, anger was as natural as breathing. . . . Julie never got mad.” And now she’s the one in jail for assault.
Dumont could have gone with the winning formulae of her previous books, but she’s taken a real chance here to recreate the risky, tricky, often maddening lives of young First Nations people growing up and taking charge of their lives in the city. It’s a serious book, with some funny moments, though occasionally Dumont’s well-exercised comic muscles betray her and she slips in a one-liner where the tone should remain serious. All in all, though, Glass Beads is a courageous novel about courageous people.
— Bill Robertson, Saskatoon StarPhoenix
ALBERTA NATIVE NEWS, JUNE 2017
The high heeled Chuck Taylor sneakers with gorgeous beaded First Nation themed embroidery on the cover of Dawn Dumont’s third novel entitled “Glass Beads” is a heads up that the pages to follow will be filled with a dark but daring story. And the 272 pages that follow definitely live up to the expectation.
“Glass Beads” is a coming of age novel by Dumont that tells a story about four First Nations young people and their relationships to one another from 1993 to 2008. The book is made up of twenty short stories that interconnect the friendships of — Everett, Nellie, Julie, and Taz — as the group evolves over two decades against the cultural, political, and historical backdrop of the 90s and early 2000s.
Glass Beads is an easy read but the subtext just beneath the storyline is deep and disturbing. The dialogue is fast paced and the events that occur demonstrate the harsh and horrifying realities that face many Indigenous young people living in First Nation communities across Canada. These experiences leave scars that are very difficult to overcome.
The book tells an engaging story about four people growing up Saskatchewan but more than that it tells the story of the turbulent systemic injustices that First Nations people had to face during that time period (and still do) as a matter of basic survival. Much to Dumont’s credit, she tells the story using voices that are relatable and likeable – so it is an easy read. However, each story contains important references to the political events that were taking place at the time the story is unfolding.
The book is primarily written in the voice of Nellie, who left her home on the rez with top grades to attend university. She is hard working, confident in her academic skills and from a stable family but she is filled with self-doubt and low confidence in her personal life and about her looks. Her friend Julie, on the other hand, is slim and beautiful; abandoned by her mother, she meets Nellie as she is running away from a foster family on the rez. Both characters are fundamentally flawed as individuals and as friends.
Everett is the from the same rez, also abandoned by his parents and raised by an uncle. He is content to party and sleep around and take advantage of whatever falls his way. Taz is from the north and meets Nellie at university; he is smart, and driven to succeed in First Nation politics but he too likes to drink to excess and has violent tendencies. Everett and Taz are also likeable characters who are fundamentally flawed.
These young people are among the first of their families to live off the reserve for most of their adult lives, and must adapt and evolve. In stories like “Stranger Danger,” we watch how shy Julie, though supported by her roomies, is filled with apprehension as she goes on her first white-guy date, while years later in “Two Years Less a Day” we witness her change as her worries and vulnerability are put to the test when she is unjustly convicted in a violent melee and must serve some jail time. As well as developing her characters experientially, Dawn Dumont carefully contrasts them, as we see in the fragile and uncertain Everett and the culturally strong and independent but reckless Taz.
As the four friends experience family catastrophes, broken friendships, on again – off again romances and the aftermath of the great tragedy of 9/11, readers are intimately connected with each struggle, whether it is with racism, isolation, finding their cultural identity, or coping with the wounds of their upbringing.
Dawn Dumont is the award-winning author of “Rose’s Run” and “Nobody Cries at Bingo.” She is also a columnist for the Starphoenix, LeaderPost and Eaglefeather News. She works full time in Saskatoon and is the proud mother of a precocious little boy. She recently wrote a youth play called, “Toe Tag Crew” for the Gordon Tootoosis Theatre that toured across Saskatchewan.
“Glass Beads” was published May 1, 2017 by Thistledown Press (ISBN 978-1-77187-126-6). It is now available online and in book stores.
— Deborah Shatz, Alberta Native News
THE GLOBE AND MAIL, JUNE 9, 2017
While these distinctions can sometimes feel academic, it seems significant that Dawn Dumont’s latest book, marketed as stories, feels much closer to a novel. Significant because, while told from multiple perspectives and with some jumps in time, there’s a clear narrative arc to this book, and that arc – about the relationships between four friends trying to live their lives off-reserve – feels like the book’s heart. After Nellie leaves home for university, she’s soon followed by Everett and Julie, the three of them having grown up together on the same Plains Cree reserve. In Saskatoon they meet Taz (Cree-Dene) and the four quickly form two on-again-off-again couples. While I argue Glass Beads could be a novel, it’s equally important that there’s no single protagonist here. Instead, Dumont balances characters off one another, offering a range of experiences as the four navigate 15 years through education, ceremony, politics, work, violence and love. Comparable to the complexity of Richard Van Camp’s work, Glass Beads is a compelling representation of urban Indigenous life.
— Jade Colbert, The Globe and Mail
SASKBOOKS REVIEWS, JUNE 6, 2017
The cover image on Dawn Dumont’s short story collection, Glass Beads, is an ideal visual metaphor for its content. The high-heeled Chuck Taylor sneakers embroidered with flowers that look like beadwork and a (notably faceless) woman in a First Nations’ jingle dress suggest a contemporary twist on traditional First Nations’ culture, and that’s exactly what Dumont delivers. The book’s twenty-three stories are real, relevant, and riveting, and Saskatoon’s Dumont – an actor, comedian, newspaper columnist, and three-book author – was a “shoe in” to write these often hilarious interconnected stories about urban-Indigenous friends in the ’90s and early 2000s. The tales are so credible-from the diction to the romantic disasters-one can easily believe the author, who hails from Okanese First Nation, is writing exactly what she knows.
This book’s overwhelming success lies in its structure, realism, and its characterizations of four friends whose lives crackle with energy, humour, and heartache. All but a few stories are dated by month and year, from 1993 to 2008, and it’s interesting to watch these characters both grow but also stay true to who they always were.
Nellie Gordon is the responsible one, and the majority of the Saskatoon-based book is told through her perspective. Razor-witted and ambitious, at university she’s on the Native Student Council and earns a law degree. Nellie becomes the brains behind her friend Taz Mosquito’s political aspirations: he expects to become Grand Chief. Taz is a “northerner”: he speaks Cree, is “totally bush,” and has “black-black hair and pale skin like old-timey vampires and a cocky confidence that comes from isolation and not knowing any better.” He also has a severe drinking problem. Pretty and outwardly tough Julie Papequash is an eight-year-old running away from on-reserve foster parents when we first meet her; naïve Julie and confident Nellie become childhood and lifetime friends, though “Envy” was invisible Nellie’s “knee-jerk response to all things Julie”. (When Nellie applies for a waitressing job she tries to curl her hair “to emulate Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct-but every second she stood [there], her hair went from sexy murderer to electrocuted hedgehog”.) Julie hooks up with Taz, and Nellie suffers through the years with Everett Kaiswatim: lackabout, womanizer, and “probably the worst drug dealer the city had ever seen”. Everett moves from the Salvation Army into the home of a man who, two days later, “went over to his ex-girlfriend’s house and shot her”. This information’s revealed so matter-of-factly, it offers readers a sense of how inner city “normalcy” differs greatly from what goes on in the ‘burbs. Nellie joins a group that volunteers in Mexico, and Everett had “always meant to check where Mexico was on the map but never got around to it”. Nellie hopes not to get kidnapped; apart from her Mom, “her family weren’t really the foundation-setting-up type”.
Dumont has an ear for the real. I could hear the characters “ch,” just as I remembered from my youth in Meadow Lake. I howled. I winced. I recognized. Hey, Canada? Please read Dawn Dumont.
— Shelley A. Leedahl, SaskBooks
QUILL & QUIRE, JUNE 2017
Although Glass Beads is billed as a collection of short stories, it works excellently as a panoramic, polyphonic Bildungsroman, following the lives of four Indigenous friends from the early 1990s to the late 2000s.
The first in their respective families to live long-term off the reserve, all four characters are out of place among both their own people and the wider world, in different ways and to different extents. Despite their diverging life paths they fit well together and understand one another, as they struggle variously with alcohol abuse, cultural disinheritance, racism, and class structure.
Nellie is a weary feminist and anti-racist killjoy, pointing out the root causes of various problems and social ills while looking to her education and a career in law as her ticket away from her troubles. Julie, staggeringly beautiful, drifts through life with a lack of self-confidence, never truly recovering from the deaths of her mother and her baby. Everett, an unreliable womanizer, goes through a cultural and spiritual awakening in his early thirties, becoming upset that he's never learned Cree and knows little about his cultural background. Taz has big political ambitions and a lot of vision, but still cannot escape his origins or other people's assumptions.
Dumont's talent for comedy shines in a great deal of snappy, wry wit. She uses this both for universal concerns like interpersonal interactions ("Their relationship was a broken vase that Nellie kept gluing together. And then once she got it to stand, she would proclaim, 'Look at it! It's beautiful' while everyone else knew it was a fragile piece of shit"), but also more politically. Discussing the situation of native people in Canada, Nellie keeps "wanting to make it sound better than it was but failing as the night went on."
Glass Beads is deeply political but never ideological. Its characters are full and complex. Like Catherine Hernandez's recently released novel, Scarborough, this book tells the stories of people vastly underrepresented in CanLit.
— J.C. Sutcliffe, Quill & Quire
PICKLE ME THIS, MAY 22, 2017
“Why is Friends on every channel?” is a question posed at the beginning of one of the inter-connected short stories in Dawn Dumont’s new book, Glass Beads, and the answer to that question is the same as the answer to another one: What makes Glass Beads so compulsively readable? A cast of compelling characters each so different and singular that their interactions create interesting conflict, plus sparkly witty dialogue. In the same way that Friends is a show you can have playing in the background, I read Glass Beads in two days. And yet—to say the book is similarly easy (the kind of thing you can have playing in the background) is to undermine its substance, the darkness at its margins and core. But still: the darkness is not the whole point.
Last week on twitter, Tracey Lindberg asked a kind of rhetorical question about the possibility of Indigenous beach reads. A rhetorical question because her point is that Indigenous literature is pushed to be issues-based and doesn’t get to be fun, light and joyful in the way that other literatures do. And the closest answer I have to the idea of an Indigenous beach read is Dawn Dumont’s work, including Glass Beads, which follows Rose’s Run (a book I loved) and Nobody Cries at Bingo. Her work is as smart and funny as you’d expect from a writer whose background includes law and standup comedy, never shying away from big issues and politics (in Rose’s Run, a demon draws on the strength of women to seek justice for innumerable wrongs committed against them by men; in the context of missing and murdered Indigenous women, this is no small statement) but written with a decidedly commercial bent.
Billed as a collection of connected short stories, Glass Beads actually works astoundingly well as a novel, told from four perspectives between 1993 and 2008. Friends Nellie and Julie whose ties go back to childhood on their reserve, although they’re very different. Nellie is stubborn, smart and determined to become a lawyer, whereas Julie is unsettled, rattled by early loss and childhood traumas and given a lot of latitude because of her beauty. Nellie is in love with Everett, who is gorgeous but a bit dumb, and unwilling to give her the commitment she longs for. Abandoned by his parents, Everett carries his own baggage. Rounding out their foursome is Taz, who knows Nellie through the Native Students Council at their university and Everett because Taz buys drugs from his roommate. Taz and Julie become an unlikely couple, on-again and off-again as Everett and Nellie are.
The ties between the four of them deeply wound, binding, ever changing, time and experience bringing them together and apart. Nellie achieves her career goals, but find that there is still much to yearn for. Julie drifts, loses her way, and comes home again, at one point become incarcerated for her part in a fight, and is forced to partake in a substance abuse program even through she doesn’t have a substance abuse problem—but the carpentry program was full and that’s what happens when you’re a human being instead of a statistic. Taz moves from work with the provincial government to become Grand Chief of the Provincial Council of First Nations, with Nellie supporting him professionally. And Everett finally begins to the connect with the culture that was stolen from him when he lost his father, his ties to Nellie cemented when she gets pregnant with their child.
That we can read a book from four different perspectives and still not know everything, and that Dumont can create tension and shocking moments with that space beyond the limits of what we know about these characters is a testament to Glass Beads‘ craftsmanship, and why I consider it a novel more than stories—the book as a whole is deftly plotted. Its characters change and grow, harden yet remain vulnerable, get together and fall apart, and pick up the pieces again, and here we are witnessing all of it. We feel like we know them. Like a certain 1990s’ sitcom, but infinitely more interesting.
— Kerry Clare, Pickle Me This
THE WINNIPEG REVIEW, MAY 15, 2017
Being Indigenous in Canada often feels like stepping into the middle of a conversation. The conversation you are suddenly thrust into is one which has been going for almost 400 years. Finding your place in that dialogue is challenging and forces you to learn about the past and decide on the future you want. Throughout the interconnected stories in her collection, Glass Beads, Dawn Dumont weaves several Indigenous voices together in a narrative of self-discovery that reflects the conversation many Indigenous people find ourselves in.
Non-Indigenous readers may have trouble locating themselves within these stories, but Indigenous readers will immediately be at home with the complexities of Indigenous life. The main voice in the novel belongs to Nellie, a young Cree woman beginning law school. Narrating the world around her, hers is a very real voice, with a mix of insecurity and intelligence. She doesn’t feel attractive or smart. Her life is balanced between the mainstream Canadian world of higher education and the reserve community she comes from. In other words, her experience is very familiar to the many Indigenous young adults walking between worlds.
Other voices are woven throughout the stories, including a young Indigenous man, Everrett, from the same community as Nellie. He is handled with sensitivity as he tries to define his masculinity and figure out what to do with his life. He makes mistakes, sometimes mistreats the women around him and is deeply flawed, but he is also intelligent and burdened with a legacy of violence he did not choose. Then there is a Julie, a tall, thin girl who is often told she is beautiful. Her occasional lover, Taz, is another Indigenous man working through history and his own life as he attempts to become an Indigenous politician. These four voices, Nellie, Everrett, Julie and Taz, are threaded together throughout the stories as they weave in and out of each other’s lives.
Dumont relies heavily on dialogue to carry the narrative forward. This is one of the book’s strengths, but there are moments when a reader might wish for more images or insight into the characters’ motivations. Jumping between years, the story offers small scenes of the four characters’ lives as they grow up. This allows the novel to speak to the complexity of Indigenous lives over the course of a character’s entire development, but it can feel as if the reader is dropping into mini-movies throughout the novel. However, the strong dialogue and the enduring vulnerability of Dumont’s characters pull the reader through the book.
I connected the most with Julie, a vulnerable woman who always seems to be taken advantage of by men and the broader world. The tension and bond between the two Indigenous female characters is particularly rich. Nellie resents Julie for her beauty, but also tries to protect her from the world. Julie sees Nellie’s anger, but offers her a constant friendship. This feels very true to many friendships I’ve had in my own life and the particular way Indigenous women use sisterhood to overcome obstacles.
Indigenous literature often carries a double burden of having to be good art and explain what it is to be Indigenous in Canada. Dumont’s book is good art, but it avoids being educational. As a result, an Indigenous reader is going to get more out of this book than a non-Indigenous reader, simply because we will see the deeper connections between history, community and identity. This is the book’s greatest strength because it allows us—Indigenous readers—to connect with the story in a deeply personal way. Non-Indigenous readers will enjoy this book as well, but the lessons are likely going to be different for them.
Recalling the work of other Indigenous writers like Cherie Dimaline and Richard Van Camp, Glass Beads is a very human story of growth, change and connection. Even if the stories sometimes relies too much on dialogue to reveal its truths, it is overall an intelligent and worthwhile read.
— Gwen Benaway, The Winnipeg Review