Through Different Eyes
Karen Charleson, 226 pgs, Signature Editions, signature-editions.com, $19.95
Love triangles, teenage pregnancy, (not so) secret affairs, a baby abandoned on doorsteps — with all this drama and more plot twists, you would think I was talking about a telenovela and not Karen Charleson’s first novel.
Through Different Eyes follows the Joe family, who live in a fictional Kitsum, a small fishing Indigenous town north of Vancouver. While teenage Brenda worries about her pregnancy, her aunt Monica returns for Christmas to help confront the local man that Brenda was involved with. Monica, who just left her long-term Vancouver boyfriend, is conflicted when meeting the attractive loner that Brenda was involved with. Meanwhile, Brenda’s mother, Ruby, deals with the multiple rumours that her husband Martin had an affair. As more family secrets and betrayals are exposed, and rumours begin to spread, the Joe family begins to unravel.
Charleson expertly uses an omniscient narrator to show us a glimpse of not just Brenda and Monica’s perspectives, but also Nona’s, the Joes’ elderly neighbour who just can’t help herself from spreading rumours. Even if the focus is the Joe family drama, Charleson doesn’t shy away from political comments. When they open the first elementary school in Kitsum, which was severely underfunded, Monica is determined to be “good enough that she would never have to go back to the Indian Residential School ever again.” The matter of fact tone of these sparing critiques don’t detract from the story, instead they leave readers to contemplate the conditions of Indigenous peoples in Canada.
While the first few chapters draw out a bit slowly, once the drama starts for Brenda, Monica, and Ruby, the action unfolds and quickly snowballs, making Through Different Eyes impossible to put down.