Rose's Run

pacific rim review of books, spring 2016

Firstly, no matter your social class or ethnicity, Rose’s Run is relatable. You’re going to relate to Rose and you’re going to laugh both at her and yourself when you read her story. 

Already the winner of the 2015 Saskatchewan Book Award for Fiction, Dumont’s novel is her next step into the Canadian canon. A comedian born and raised in Saskatchewan, Dumont writes an intricate thriller-mystery with the tone of a profane comedic drama. A Plains Cree comedian and reporter for APTN indigenous television from the Okanese reserve in Saskatchewan, Dumont’s previous novel, Nobody Cries at Bingo, was about growing up on a First Nation reserve and featured a series of hilarious stories. Rose’s Run, while also a comedy about life on the rez, takes an imaginative turn for the supernatural, where both the fantastic and the terrifying aspects of spirituality play a heavy part of the story. It’s this mix of humour and fear that will leave you in a cold sweat one minute, and in a ridiculous laughing fit the next. 

Rose’s thoughts are a peculiar weave of both juvenile playfulness and acquired wisdom. Readers are plummeted to rock bottom with Rose in chapter one and we quickly develop a relationship with our off-the-wall protagonist as she works to pick herself back up. There is a middle ground drama when Rose's irresponsible husband leaves her with their two daughters (a child and a teen), a set of injured knees, no money, and no car. Since she can't make it to work, she is promptly fired, and when Rose hits bottom the reader feels it. Her chance for redemption lies in her insistence on running herself into shape for a marathon, and just when readers might think her life couldn't get any more hectic, an angry spirit is awakened from an ancient slumber and sets out to terrorize everyone on the reserve. 

On top of financial and life survival, Rose struggles with her romantic life. The newly elected Chief is giving her a lot of unexpected attention, and ex-lovers cause chaos and a small amount of fear for both parties. 

In the most unorthodox way, Dumont introduces feminism into this novel. However, it's not as simple as calling Rose's Run a feminist piece. It had a stronger focus on gender equality. Where one man sneaks a woman into his wife's bed, the woman is betraying her own family. The people in Dumont's story are just that: people. They make mistakes. They misbehave. While it's true that many of the men Rose knows have caused the women a lot of grief, the "feminist" response from the women on the rez is not quite what one would call ethical either (though some might call it satisfying.)

Dumont's style of humour is self-depreciating, honest, comprehensive, and confidential. This is a novel where you get to know Rose and her trials and triumphs intimately. When we see Rose breaking through to and actually having successful conversations with her rebellious teen daughter, it's clear that Dumont is giving us some precious information on how to survive parenthood. It's fiction, but there's no bullshit. That is an important distinction in contemporary novel-writing. Rose's Run is integral Canadian literature. It has sincerity, it has setting, it has culture. Writers like Dumont provide a foundation which every citizen can use to understand what it means to be truly Canadian. She doesn't rely on stereotypes from Canada's aboriginal community. Instead, her characters are people, and each one is brought to life with her attention to detail and fearlessness of the strange. As Canadians struggle with defining their identities, Dumont acts as a mentor, similar to writers like Sheila Watson, Timothy Findley, and Alice Munro, in guiding us toward creating our national legacy.

This is a novel that will appeal to a broad audience and I'd recommend it to adolescents, adults, rich, poor, city-dwelling, country roaming, Canadian or otherwise. It's pedagogical and a celebration in one package. An easy read. With Rose's Run, you can add to your Canadian repertoire, scream, cry, and laugh, all in one whirlwind juicy book.

— Chuck Barker

what to read next, understorey magazine, winter 2016 (nov 2015)

Dawn Dumont is a professional comedian, so you might expect Rose’s Run, her second novel, to be funny — and it is. But the book has a serious side too, tackling women’s issue and both daily realities and ingrained stereotypes of native life in Canada. Rose Okanese is a mother of two young girls on a fictional reserve in Saskatchewan. Although she’s been to university, Rose works at a pig farm and spends her evenings at the bingo hall. When she returns home one evening to find her husband in bed with her cousin, Rose throws him out and resurrects old running skills to chase her cousin down. The following day, Rose loses her job. She applies for welfare at the band office and meets the alluring and athletic new Chief, Taylor. Through attempts to impress and maintain dignity, Rose lands a job as social administrator and (much to her horror) commits to running a marathon. But as she juggles mothering two girls, caring for a pregnant friend (whose husband has also strayed), her new job, and a punishing training program, another problem arises—literally. Rose’s teenage daughter, Sarah, along with a pot-smoking friend, unearth a mysterious Dream Woman from an unmarked grave. The woman, a sort of feminist wihtikow, begins to possess local women, compelling them to take revenge on their wayward men. Rose must put her newfound strength—physical, mental and spiritual—to the test. Like a swift morning run, Dumont’s book is both challenging and exhilarating.    Understorey Magazine

i've read blog, may 6, 2015

Rose's Run by Dawn Dumont is another book I had the pleasure of reviewing while on the jury for the Saskatchewan Book Awards. It's published by Thistledown Press, whose books don't normally come across my desk, so I was delighted to crack this one open.

Dawn Dumont is a successful broadcaster, humorist and writer. I was impressed to read her biography, which lists an assortment of activities that she's involved in. Rose's Run starts off with lots of humor, and of course, a foot race. This is where the book ends as well, although the stuff in between is nothing short of extraordinary.

The book takes place on an aboriginal reserve in Saskatchewan. The environment described in the book is surprisingly cliche for what a non-native person would imagine a 'rez' to be like. This is not a criticism of Dumont's writing however, it's simply an observation I've made.I've never been on a reserve myself, but the things you hear about them in the news (poverty, alcoholism, corruption, the struggle between the new ways and the old) all play a role in this book. I can only guess that Dumont is being realistic when drawing upon these issues, because I doubt an aboriginal writer would want to perpetuate something that isn't true about this environment. There is much to admire about the story, and it's writing. The main character Rose Okanese is fun, and very relatable. She's a struggling (mostly single) mother who's attempting to lose weight by training for a marathon, while starting a new job and keeping her family and finances in check. There's also a minor love story that weaves in and out of the storyline, although this isn't the main driver of the plot by any means.

Every once and a while, a spiritual/supernatural element would rear its head, which eventually takes over the last 100 or so pages of the book. This is where I became somewhat lost. Not because it wasn't well written, or didn't make sense, but because I didn't expect it at all, and it didn't seem to fit with the tone Dumont had so brilliantly set-up in the beginning of the novel. It was almost like a Terry Fallis novel that ended up being a Stephen King book: a mix of genres of that don't belong together.

It's a good book regardless of this shift, but I think it could have been stronger if it stuck with the original humorous slant it began with. This abrupt change should not discourage you from reading it however, just getting to know Rose is well worth the read in itself.

— Anne Logan (link)

Edmonton Journal,January 29, 2015

Four years ago while slogging through a marathon in Saskatoon, Dawn Dumont had a vision.

OK, maybe it was more of a dehydrated, out-of-shape, exhausted hallucination.

“I wasn’t in good enough condition to run one,” the former Edmonton writer and runner recalls, adding that, even if you do enough marathon training, “they’re brutal.”

Once recovered from her mid-race delirium, Dumont finished the marathon, and — inspired — started writing her new novel.

“I thought, ‘I’ll just start writing’,” Dumont recalls. She had a full-time job but managed to get a manuscript together in her free time.

Rose’s Run (Thistledown Press) tells the story of 32-year-old Rose Okanese, who gets back into running as an adult, not for fitness reasons, but as a failed attempt at revenge: chasing her adulterous cousin, Michelle, who she’s just caught in bed with her good-for-nothing husband. Later, while trying to get a welfare cheque after being fired from the pig farm. Rose fibs to the social assistance worker that she’s running to turn her life around. Word spreads around town, and Rose has to put her money — er, sneakers — where her mouth is.

And she, like Dumont, has a hallucination out on a run: a vague, uncanny shape in the flat Saskatchewan countryside, coupled with the sound of her dead mother’s voice. “The hair,” she says. Wait, maybe Rose misheard it. Maybe she said “Beware.”

The latter makes total sense once you get into the thick of this hilarious, paranormal story about a man-hating evil spirit who’s got every guy on the reserve on her demonic hit list.

Dumont made a mark as an artist in Edmonton before moving to Saskatchewan to be with her ailing father, who has since recovered. She was standup comedy, and her first book. a memoir called Nobody Cries at Bingo, was a finalist for the Edmonton Book Prize in 2012. She lived here for four years, but feels home now is in Saskatoon. The Plains Cree writer grew up on a tiny reserve not far from Regina, and she pays homage to the Okanese First Nation with Rose’s last name.

Drawing on her experiences growing up on a reserve wasn’t a challenge for Dumont, whose novel takes place on a fictional reserve called Pesakestew. The author isn’t the kind to worry about what people think, she says, and she didn’t feel she had to play down stereotypes of aboriginal people (welfare cheques, bingo, domestic violence, addiction). “When I’m writing, I’m not very critical of myself. I just write.”

The central protagonist is a complete invention; Rose isn’t some covert version of the author, though they are both 32 years old. “She’s a person who’s incapable of getting mad at anyone,” Dumont explains. Once Rose gets a job at the band office doling out assistance, she feels discouraged by people’s unhealthy patterns, their inability or unwillingness to change for the better, but “even though she’s frustrated, she doesn’t look down on people.” The story gave the author a chance to explore her experiences of reserve life, “the things I see, the struggle for people there.”

Like her first book. Rose’s Run has a bingo theme that’s bound to make you giggle. Why the obsession? “The weird thing is, I actually hate bingo. I grew up working bingo, attending bingo. It’s at the point where if I’m in a bingo hall more than five minutes, I fall asleep — I have a physical reaction to it.” She adds. “My brother wants to write a book and call it Bingo Orphans. That’s how much it factored into our lives.”

Though she’s already got a marathon planned for the fall in Germany, Dumont is a little less nimble at the moment; she’s pregnant with her first child, a boy, due in May. It’s not clear if she’s like Rose, who alternates between two pairs of sweats while pregnant and charges people a dollar to touch her stomach, or Rose’s best friend Winter, who paws her belly all day and buys an entire new maternity wardrobe. Perhaps a happy in-between?

Her parents aren’t over-the-moon about the coming baby, Dumont jokes. Because they already have so many grandchildren, “they don’t really get excited anymore.” Same for her three sisters. “I’m like, ‘Oh, the baby kicked!’ and my sisters are like, ‘Whatever’.”

Dumont’s wit on the page is as delicious as it is in a phone interview. So many priceless one-liners in this book. According to Rose, running in theory is “as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, slightly faster than a fast walk but in practice, it was this horrible jiggling mess of limbs and flesh.”

And wise wit, too: “It’s funny how you forget all the bad stuff you do to other people and then remember all the bad stuff that people do to you and carry it around like an ugly purse.”

The writer always wanted to make people laugh. “That’s the most important thing. And I wanted to tell a story that was an adventure because those are my favourite kinds of books. And to explore some supernatural themes, too, was good.”

Well, if a holiday has to eventually end, Rose’s Run by Dawn Dumont is a pretty good book to go out on, a book that’s funny, breezy and heartwarming, and then manages to include a terrifying demon in the mix who feeds on the strength of women, so I was hooked in a cannot-turn-out-the-light-until-I’m-done kind of way, an I’m-going-to-have-nightmares kind of way (and I did!), and I haven’t been so gripped a scary book since I read The Troop by Craig Davidson/Nick Cutter a year ago.

But let’s back up a bit. The novel begins with Rose Okanese, a First Nations woman living on a reserve in rural Saskatchewan, catching her husband bonking her cousin (and his), and then him taking off with their car so she has no way to get to work at the pig-farm. She loses her job, and has also just caught her teenage daughter doing drugs—troubles compounding. And to further compound them, Rose—through a series of misunderstandings—starts a rumour that she’s going to be running in the reserve’s annual marathon. More than a few pounds overweight and a heavy smoker, Rose is an unlikely candidate for the race, but she eventually starts training, one foot in front of the other, a seemingly insurmountable challenge, but perhaps the one thing in her world she has any control over.

If things could get any worse, it seems that her daughter and her troubled friend have managed to raise a demon from the dead, a spirt called “The Dream Woman” who feeds on the strength of the women around her and seeks vengeance for the many wrongs done to them by men. One by one, the women on the reserve become possessed by the woman’s spirit, but somehow Rose remains immune—perhaps because of the extent of her own strength as she begins to get stronger, and also somehow due to the ghost of her mother who remains a protective presence.

Soon, the marathon is the least of Rose’s problems as she is forced to battle with The Dream Woman, freeing the local women from her power (and the local men from their brutal justice), protecting her daughters in the process and sending the spirit back into the earth where she came from.

Kind of preposterous, yes, but Dawn Dumont (a comedian and broadcaster whose first novel, Nobody Cries at Bingo, was shortlisted for two Alberta book awards) balances the supernatural elements with real emotional connections between her characters, Rose’s down to earth point of view, and a wonderful ribald sense of humour. I’ve never encountered a book that managed to be hilarious and terrifying at once—and the humour never ceases, even when the suspense is at its height, but it never gets too silly either. Which makes for a really fantastic and engaging read.

While Rose’s Run would have benefitted from a stronger edit (I stumbled on a few typos and errors; the prose could have been tighter), any problems didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel. I read the book with an awareness of Julie Flett’s recent comments on the importance of First Nations literature:

“Our First Nation, Métis, and Inuit communities vitally need books with text and artwork that reflect our cultures and realities. Our works are also critical resources for increasing awareness and understanding in Canadian society, contributing relevancy to literacy programs, improving curricula, at all levels, across Canada, and adding significantly to the body of Canadian literature.”

There is nothing polemical about the novel at all, but not far beneath its breezy style and humour, it certainly is political, depicting the complicated reality of life on First Nations’ reserves, and in particular the status of First Nations women (whose problems at their most extreme and not so rarely either have led to the disappearance and/or murder of more than a thousand of these people in the last two decades). Now is certainly a time in which Canadian First Nations women seem to be finally starting to receive what they’re due—see the recent critical response to the television show, “Mohawk Girls"; the potential for a book by a First Nations woman to be part of the Canada Reads lineup for the very first time; the Native Women’s Association of Canada receiving the 2014 Vox Libera Award from Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and more—and a book like Rose’s Run is an inspiring part of this cultural wave.

But it’s also just a really good book, and one I read avidly. A very good way to begin a new reading year.

— Kerry Clare (link)

Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Saturday DEcember 13, 2014

Rose Okanese lives on the Pesakestew First Nation with her rock musician husband, Gilbert, and her daughters Sarah and Callie. Life isn't great, but she's hanging in there. Then one day she catches her cousin in bed with her lazy, dopesmoking husband and chases the woman out of the house and down the road. The cousin gets away with Gilbert in Rose's car and without it she loses her lousy job at a local pig barn.

Forced to appeal to the band office for funds to tide her over to her next job, she runs into the new chief, a handsome, athletic, go-getter with whom she went to school. So stiff from chasing her cousin she can barely move, she lies to the chief that she's sore from training to run in a big, upcoming marathon. Now overweight, unemployed, split-up, car-less Rose, single mother of two, one of whom hates everything because she's 15, has lied her way into becoming a jogger to impress the chief. This is just the start of Rose's Run.

If Dawn Dumont — writer, Eaglefeather News columnist and APTN personality — were content to fashion a comic novel about life on the modern reserve for Rose and the trouble she's already in, she'd have a winner here. But Dumont, who splits her time between Saskatoon and Edmonton, has far more ambition than that.

No, as Rose navigates her way in her new world, including raising two very different girls, one a science geek and one testing the waters of drug and alcohol consumption, she's forced to look at other couples and how they've handled infidelity, infertility, intoxication and intolerance. Meanwhile, daughter Sarah and her friend Ronnie, without a clue about the spiritual world they are tapping into, unleash the power of an ancient female spirit, a wihtikow, and life on the reservation gets a whole lot more complicated.

Dumont gets in shots at life on the rez and band politics, at the loss of knowledge of First Nations protocol especially among First Nations people, about the way contemporary couples treat one another and how they are raising their children and about the dangerous loss of spiritual connectedness that today's consumerist life has wrought.

And along with an exciting female revenge fantasy, Dumont also manages some terrific humour: Her entire Chapter 4 about two teenage girls talking about their mothers and the one-paragraph description of the local, small-town bar are brilliant comic set pieces. Beneath the successful facade of humour, Dumont has serious things to say about modern First Nations life. This is a winner.

— Bill Robertson

Alberta Native News, November 2014

Dawn Dumont is an accomplished and celebrated Aboriginal woman whose talent and media savvy has enabled her to write and deliver stand-up comedy, co-host APTN’s reality comedy Fish Out of Water, write a monthly column in Eaglefeather News, host the Canada-wide afternoon drive show as a DJ on Aboriginal Voices Radio, and write books that not only tell a great story but deliver important messages as well.

Rose’s Run, released by Saskatoon-based Thistledown Press earlier this year, is the second book the author has produced since her first release, Nobody Cries at Bingo, in 2011. The author, a Plains Cree actor and comedian who hails from Saskatchewan’s Okanese First Nation displays her wit whenever the occasion arises, as it did when talking about her community, noting that it is “quite possibly the smallest reservation in the world, but what it doesn’t have in terms of land area, the people make up for in sheer head size.”

In Nobody Cries at Bingo, Dumont embraces cultural differences as she delves into her family’s and her own life on the reserve. The principle character is a young girl who loves to read and learn and express herself. She moves through the various stages of her life until she finally finds herself looking at a life with outstanding prospects.

Not unlike her first book, Rose’s Run is also a tale of fiction that comes across as being based on real-life situations. With snappy replies and laughter-provoking dialogue Rose’s Run is filled with humour that is sometimes blunt and provocative and at other times jovial, even educational. The story focuses on Rose Okanese, a single mother with two girls, eight year old Callie and 16 year old Sarah. The book is filled with an array of unusual characters that play both bit and leading roles; the most notable of the role-playing characters (other than the title subject) are Callie and long-time friend Winter and her husband Monty.

The book begins and ends on a local race track where Rose has entered a marathon that she hopes will give her the self-respect she needs to deal with both personal and community issues. Feisty and full of fight, Rose doesn’t shy away from situations and circumstances that affect her family and friends; in fact she curses and fights and is often belligerent throughout the script, sometimes in ways that may not prove to be the best example-setting strategies. But her strength of character and the real life situations that arise throughout the book will have readers nodding in appreciation as they realize that they likely wouldn’t have done things any different.

The beginning of the book is a bit confusing, if not downright slow, but before the end of the second chapter the ride becomes more and more interesting as characters are introduced, characters with personalities that are anything but predictable. Dumont has an incredible flair and understanding of dialogue and she puts it to good use throughout the 304 pages and 19 chapters that make up this outstanding script. An adventure that could easily be transferred to the big screen, this unique tale, is often humourously told through the mouths of the characters portrayed in each chapter. It has many twists, including a dark side that might give fright to the younger, less sophisticated in the audience. The eerier moments, however, have their special touch and the negativity, for the most part, is reminiscent of everyday life and as such is inevitably overcome.

The main character is likeable and full of energy, sometimes aggressive, seldom docile, a bit suspicious and doubtful at times, but nonetheless self-confident and aware of her surrounding space and the activity that takes place within it. That confidence is what propels her to do what she must to ensure that family and friendships remain first and foremost.

Rose’s Run has all the elements it takes to tell a good story: love, longing, honour, friendship, bravery and humour on the one side; doubt, dislike, alienation, fright and discourse on the other. This book is about the will to win, the right to survive, the necessity of setting precedents and overcoming the biggest hindrance of them all — self-doubt.

I’m not going to spoil the story by delving into the monster that arrives in the form on an evil spirited woman that creates havoc. Even this devilish look into life and the many twists and turns one encounters and endures on the way to achievement has its moments of humour. Safe to say, Rose’s Run is more than a winner when it comes to great reading for just about any age group — young or mature. It is a book that begs to be read, if only because of the life-lessons that Dumont shares with her readers via the off-beat but insightful education she offers through subtle innuendo and silent criticism.

A comedian first, and likely forever, Dawn Dumont began her comedy career on the stage at Yuk Yuk’s and the Laugh Resort. She writes comedy for CBC Radio and appears frequently in the Edmonton Journal. She’s also a story editor for APTN’s animated comedy, By The Rapids. Her writing has been published in the anthologies: Native Women in the Arts and Gatherings, and the Rampage Literary Journal. Dumont’s personal essay, Transformations was published by Toronto’s Now Magazine. Most recently her play, Nicimis (Little Brother) was workshopped at Native Earth’s Performing Arts Weesageechak Begins to Dance Festival in Toronto, with artistic director Alanis King.

Her first book, Nobody Cries at Bingo, was shortlisted as both the 2012 Alberta Readers Choice Award and the 2012 Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Award. It was also chosen for inclusion in the 2012 Best Books for Kids and Teens.

Rose’s Run was published by Thistledown Press and is available in book stores and by on-line vendors. The stunning cover art is by Aaron Paquette.

— John Copley