Edmonton Journal Review - Morningstar

Strong voice emerges from the dark
Reviewed by: Edmonton Journal

Your car rolls along one of those streets found in every Canadian city. It's night and people stand in the alleys and shadows. You unconsciously check to ensure that the doors are locked. You don't really look too carefully at the passing scene, a bit apprehensive about what you might see. You may not want to know the stories behind the faces you might see in those shadows.

Morningstar is one of those stories. It is certainly not a pleasant reading experience, but it is an important one. In the writer's unadorned style, usually in simple declarative sentences, she very powerfully conveys her own story. This account requires an act of courage to tell honestly, and Morningstar Mercredi has found that courage in discovering her 'warrior spirit' and through the recovered love of an estranged son.

The book opens with a five-year-old Jolene McCarty, her birth name, searching the streets to find her mother during one of her regular drinking bouts at the old Cecil Hotel in downtown Edmonton. This affecting account is told in the third person. While most of Morningstar is told in the first person, there are many such third-person asides that allow Mercredi to reflect on her life from a distance, and these are the only instances where she can allow herself any pity for the lost child she was years ago. Otherwise she is brutally harsh in her condemnation of her early life. Disassociation was a response to her years of sexual abuse, marital discord, almost unbelievable domestic violence, uprooted childhood, self-destructive behaviour, and to her struggles through alcohol and other drugs, prostitution and madness. The personal survival device finds expression even in the divided voice of her narrative.

Why did Mercredi write this book? For years she felt cut off from her feelings, wanting to deny that many things had happened in her young life. She wanted to believe that hers had been a basically happy childhood, 'but denying or smothering my voice suffocates the child who fought to stay alive, and every child has a right to their voice' .

Young Jolene and her seven sisters grew up among grandparents, aunts, uncles, and with their father and stepfather in Fort McMurray, Fort Chipewyan, Uranium City, Saskatoon, and other locations, bouncing from school to school, one form of schoolyard racism to another, and finally, following sexual abuse by her stepfather, futile efforts at escape in the streets. Her only intermittent relief came during summer solitude at Uranium City, sitting under a bridge, listening to the river, and fantasizing about breaking away from her real life. She sometimes shared these stories with her friends.

Knowing that her one escape was into storytelling, perhaps it was inevitable that she would discover writing. We should be thankful for this, because not since Maria Campbell wrote Halfbreed has such a strong personal statement come from the native voice of our own streets. It is a voice we should all heed. For those who listen, it is a voice that will haunt for sometime.

Ken Tingley is a freelance reviewer.

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