Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese
by Tasneem Kapacee
Medicine Walk, written by Richard Wagamese, is a fictitious story about a father and son and their journey through the backcountry of the British Columbia interior. It is about a journey that results in finding truth, relieving sorrow and finding forgiveness.
Medicine Walk revolves around two main characters, Frank Starlight and his father Eldon. Frank is a 16-year-old, half Indigenous boy, referred to as “the kid” throughout most of the book. He is raised by a man referred to as “the old man” to be a good, respectful and thankful person. Eldon, on the other hand, is a brash, alcoholic, absentee father who lives in a town that sits on a river valley. He’s dying, and his final wish is for his son to “walk” him to a ridge in the back country of B.C. and bury him there in the warrior position, as prescribed in Eldon’s culture.
What transpires is a heartwarming tale whereby both father and son truly connect and get to know and understand each other. Eldon realizes that his son is far better a man that he ever was, or thought could be, and Frank finally gets to know some of the truths of his life, the most important being that of his mother. He also learns more about his father and what led him to be the person he scarcely interacted with before their journey.
What works in this book are the vivid descriptions of each story, narrated by Eldon. As a reader, you are able to formulate a picture of exactly what is occurring in a given scene in your mind. A great example of this is when Eldon describes his participation in the Korean war where he and his friend Jimmy were tasked to do advance recon of the Chinese army. During the recon, Jimmy is seriously wounded and in order for Eldon to survive, he is forced to kill his friend. The description in this tale provides you with such gut-wrenching details of what occurred that you feel as though you are right there with the two of them. You feel the moment when Eldon holds Jimmy’s mouth to stop him from screaming, puts the blade into his body and he ceases to scream. These vivid descriptions add a large amount of drama into the book, which makes it exciting to read.
What fell flat is the impersonal way many of the tales are narrated to the audience. This book is largely supposed to be a story about a dying father who is trying to make amends with his son by telling him the truths about his life as a way to ensure that someone fondly remembers him after he is gone. The tales on their own are powerful, however, within the context of a book, fail to be impactful. This is because any of the tales are narrated from third person perspective and does not provide the same connection as one would feel if they were being told by the father directly to “the kid.” Many of these tales had the potential to hit the right chords in the minds and hearts of the audience because they start of in the first-person perspective, however after a few paragraphs the author moves towards the impersonal perspective resulting in the reader suddenly being cut off from the feelings he has started to develop.
This book had great potential to hit the right notes in the minds of readers given its vivid description and powerful tales, however due to the impersonal points of view used throughout the book, the reader loses the emotional connection that should be present to create impact in such subject matter. I rate this book 2.5/5