The Outlook Review - Bone Coulee
Reviewed by: Derek Ruttle
"Coulee" a Tale of Guilt and Forgiveness
A stark, very familiar and relatable grouping of locations, environments and people should grab readers' attention in Outlook author Larry Warwaruk's new novel, Bone Coulee.
Released by Coteau Books, the work of fiction is a harrowing account of one man's guilt eating away at home, and the road to forgiveness coming with many emotional turns along the way.
As teenagers in the summer of 1950, Mac Chorniak and his friends were seen as responsible for the death of a young Indian man. However, due to the prejudices of the era, the boys received no punishment. Now, over 50 years later, the friends have grown old, and while most have settled into the routines, habits and politics of Duncan, their rural prairie town, Mac continues to live with the guilt and regret over what happened long ago.
When Roseanna Desjarlais, who was there that fateful night, and her daughter Angela move to Duncan, old problems come to the surface. And with the community of Duncan unaware that Roseanna is the sister of the murdered Indian man, nobody knows that she intends to exact revenge for what happened and be sure that Mac pays for his part.
'Bone Coulee', in my view, speaks directly from the Saskatchewan heart. One could even say it speaks from this specific area, as the town of Duncan could easily be construed as being modeled after Outlook or any of the smaller, neighbouring villages. These characters, small-town folks that are hard-set in their opinions and views, are ones that we see every day when we're picking up a load of groceries or getting the mail. It's these distinct familiar traits that allow readers to identify with the characters almost instantly.
Author Warwaruk's inspiration for most of the content in the book came from his real-life experiences with seeing these kinds of places, such as a buffalo jump. It's not hard to realize this, as great detail goes into describing the surroundings of the book's characters.
What readers will definitely notice in 'Bone Coulee', aside from the story's central plot, is the recurring theme of yearning. Mac Chorniak not only lives with the guilt over a decades-old crime he feels supreme guilt for, but with the realization that he's watched the world pass by him with new age technology and how today's generation live their lives, and the fact that he's old perhaps hits him harder than it does his old, coffee row friends. Chorniak realizes that time waits for no man, and he has no choice but to keep on living or get out of the way. He does this with his own brand of wit and wisdom, and it's easy to imagine Mac as that friendly old senior sipping coffee at the corner cafe and talking about anything that comes to mind.
'Coulee' also deals greatly with the First Nations culture, and Warwaruk writes with high respect to issues such as land ownership and bringing up issues of prejudice and racism. He creates powerful, spirited characters in the process and it's with these people that the book's conclusion is so important.
That being said, the book definitely isn't for everyone, as it obviously depends on your literary appetite. There were portions of 'Bone Coulee' that I thought were well-done and parts of it that I wasn't the biggest fan of, and if I'm being honest, this book doesn't file under my own personal taste. But one can't ignore the obvious research and detail that has gone into its publication, and it does get high marks for being relatable on a 'we see these kind of people every day' level. I believe if you're looking for an interesting tale of personal guilt and one man's road to redemption, and you also have a vested interest in First Nations culture, then this novel may just be something to add to your bookshelf.