[Goodreads synopsis] When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.
In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim — police, family, and friends — tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. […] Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.
I went into The Break with the expectation that it was going to be sad, and at times hard to read, but I did not expect it to knock the wind out of me the way it did. I read a lot of sad books, but this one really got to me.
We have all been broken in one way or another.
Set in Winnipeg Manitoba, The Break is a novel about abuse, violence, and racism. But it’s also about how our connections with each other help us to heal from these experiences. In this case, it’s a group of Indigenous women from the same family who are at the heart of the novel.
All these women holding each other up.
But what happens if you have no one, or if your someone(s) can’t even take care of themselves? The answer to that is also in this book.
The crime that the story is centered around is heinous, the gang violence is disturbing, and the conditions some people have to live in are terrible, but it was the blatant racism that horrified me the most.
Shortly after reading The Break, I heard an interview on the CBC Radio about Carl Seier, who, after reading in MacLean’s magazine that Winnipeg is the most racist city in Canada, decided to go out and talk to strangers. One year later, he’s talked to hundreds of people and posted 40 stories on his Facebook page, The Stranger Connection Winnipeg. Now when he hears the stories in the news. they are more than just facts and statistics; they have meaning and a human face.
Also one year later, the city of Winnipeg is on a mission. Obviously it’s going to be a long journey, for Winnipeg and the rest of Canada, but stories like The Break and the life stories told to Carl Seier, that tell us what it’s really like without the sugarcoating, are essential to the process.
It’s a very cold winter night in inner-city Winnipeg, and young Stella looks out the window and sees a crime taking place, and she calls the police. From there, a very well-crafted, well-written book, a story that will not let you go but will tell you the story of different generations of Indigenous women. You get to know not just the victim but the perpetrator, and you understand how colonization has created this entire situation. Every Canadian needs to read this to understand relations.
This book was so gut-wrenching and hard to write about (I’ve been writing and re-writing for a while now), that it would have been easier to just leave it. But I loved it too much to do that. It’s a tough read, but it is so worth the effort. And there are moments of hope and beauty and strength and inspiration. Just have some tissues handy, and maybe be ready to pick up something light for your next read.
Katherena Vermette‘s first book, North End Love Songs, won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry. The Break was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, the Rogers Trust Fiction Prize and is now a finalist for Canada Reads.
Another beautiful book about Indigenous women is Birdie by Tracey Lindberg.
Katherena Vermette on the writing of The Break, in which she explains, among other things, the ‘magic numbers’ involved in the structure of the book.
Katherena Vermette on The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers.
Buried in Print’s review of The Break: “The perpetration of abusive and devastating cycles also leads to relentless anger and addiction. Nonetheless, despite the horrors, the overwhelming tenor of The Break is resilience and endurance.”
The Winnipeg Review: “Vermette is skilled at writing with a language that is conversational and comfortable and with a poetic ease that makes the hard things easier to swallow. The result is a book that is at times emotionally demanding, funny, suspenseful, and always engaging.”
The Globe and Mail: “The Break is an astonishing act of empathy, and its conclusion is heartbreaking. A thriller gives us easy answers – a victim and a perpetrator, good guys and bad guys. The Break gives us the actual mess of life.”