When the Ghosts Tell Our Stories

In Case I Go

Angie Abdou (Arsenal Pulp Press, Oct. 2017)

She only nodded. “It’s all we are in the end. Our stories.”

                        Medicine Walk, Richard Wagamese

Angie Abdou characterizes In Case I Go, her latest novel, as a “ghost story.” That’s like saying Moby Dick is the definitive manual for hunting white whales. Or, if you have a problem with your bike pull out Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Yes, it’s a ghost story.

Several years into marriage and with ten-year old son, a couple move to the father’s ancestral home, Coalton. In their courtship, this was the place they solidified their relationship. Skiing, biking, getting away from the hustle and bustle and extra emotional entanglements of their urban lives, they’re seeking to recover the spark of the early years. Nicholas works as an environmental engineer at one of the open pit coal mines. Lucy stays at home with Elijah. Born premature, he spent months in intensive care before coming home.

The narrative swings between Eli’s voice and Lucy’s. First one then the other.

Eli talks about his birth, “That’s what they did when I was born, actually, pulled me back into their world. I kicked the door down three months before I was invited, Mama says, and then decided I didn’t want to stay anyway.”

Eli starts spending time with the neighbor Sam in his garden. Sam is a Ktunaxa elder caring for Mary, his niece, who does not talk and is a few years older than Eli.

Sam and Eli become friends. While helping Sam in his garden, Eli learns the traditional stories of the Ktunaxa and the history of Coalton.

Meanwhile, Mary talks to Eli, but only Eli can hear her.

Lucy does hear Sam and Eli talking. Concerned about Eli bothering Sam, Lucy starts coming over and joining in the conversations. Mary still only talks to Eli and only Eli can hear her.

The narrative starts making greater swings between Eli’s voice and Lucy’s voice. As the swings become greater, it’s as if there is a kink in the chains and the swing seat starts to twist out of alignment, out of the expected path back down and then back up again.

And the twist becomes greater. There are more voices. But the voices are all one. Some voices come from the past, but are clearly heard now, today, in Coalton.

There are forgotten graves in this part of Coalton. Some markers remain, but most graves lie unmarked. For whatever reason, the dead not accepted into the Catholic Cemetery across the street were buried in the unsanctified ground behind the houses.

It gets complicated.

In Case I Go delves into the recent past and the relationship of the Europeans with the Ktunaxa in the valley. There is the tale of the Ghostrider. The story of an Anglo promised to a Ktunaxa woman broken and the resulting appropriation of Ktunaxa resources without compensation or consideration of the damages to the environment. The classic original settler sin, the broken promises of the newcomers to the long-term residents of the land.

The swings become wilder. The twist in the chains becomes a flat spin as the swing passes through even greater arcs and gathers more voices.

In the Acknowledgements at the end of In Case I Go, Angie Abdou honours the late Richard Wagamese with a special thanks and quotes Richard from a Denman Island event where they shared the stage. “You can’t undo the past. You don’t have to feel guilty about the past. You don’t even have to apologize for the past. All you have to do is say YES. Yes, this happened. We can start there.”

As in all matters of reconciliation, we need a place, a point, from which to start. In this year, the 150th year of Confederation, the year of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canadians desperately need a point, a single point from which to start listening to the stories of our treatment of the indigenous people of Canada. We can only hope, with novels like Angie Abdou’s In Case I Go, we truly start on a path of reconciliation by listening to their stories and saying YES.

The Canadian launch of Angie Abdou’s latest novel, In Case I Go will be the first Booked event at the Fernie Heritage Library September 14 at 7PM. This is the opening day of this year’s Chautauqua weekend. Polar Peek Books in Fernie, BC will also be the first to offer this much anticipated for sale as of September 1, 2017. So all of you book clubs, get purchasing!