Book Review: Moccasin Square Gardens by Richard Van Camp

Moccasin Square Gardens – Richard Van Camp (Douglas & McIntyre, 2019)

The words that come to mind when I think about this collection of short stories are “delightfully weird”. Aliens, small towns, Indigenous politics, and aliens. I really don’t know what to compare this to because I don’t think I’ve ever read a collection quite like this.

Van Camp’s distinctive voice comes through loud and clear and he tells stories with an ease that is really lovely to read. There is an oral story-telling feel to many of his tales, as if the narrator is sitting down next to you. (And, indeed, several of the stories have that deliberate set up.)

The stories all take place in and around Fort Smith, NWT and feature Indigenous characters. Some deal with local politics (and living in a small town, this felt both familiarly frustrating and hilarious) and several deal with complicated family relationships. The continuance of language and custom is also a frequent theme.

As are aliens. Van Camp approaches alien presence as almost an aside in the opening story. Aliens aren’t what the story is about, they’re simply there, literally hovering over the town. In two other stories, connected to one another, we learn of a future where our warming climate has awakened an ancient danger. Something vicious and alien that we cannot control and that is quickly destroying us. Climate change and environmental destruction is mentioned only in passing but it’s a powerful metaphor for what’s occurring in our world right now. The second of these two stories feels a little overly complicated, more complex than a single short story can encompass, and I get the feeling we’ll be hearing more of this world that Van Camp has created.

I enjoyed these short stories a lot. If you liked The Lesser Blessed by Van Camp then I’m positive you’ll like his short fiction too. And if you haven’t read Van Camp before then Moccasin Square Gardens makes an excellent introduction.

14 thoughts on “Book Review: Moccasin Square Gardens by Richard Van Camp”

  1. Sounds great! I love quirky short stories that use off the wall stuff as a different angle to look at contemporary issues. The alien stories sound as if they’re a bit “weird”, as in the weird genre which I’ve grown to appreciate more over the last few years. I shall keep an eye out for this collection appearing over here…

  2. You ever notice how loads of books used to start with a framing device of someone telling the reader they’re going to tell a story? Frankenstein does it. I think Dracula does too. Okay, maybe just creature features, lol. I always liked that device, though, because you get all ready to be scared or thrilled or surprised.

    1. That’s a really good point. Often there was a sort of set up to a character being the one telling the story. I think Moby Dick starts that way too. (Also kind of a creature feature?) And doesn’t the Rime of the Ancient Mariner begin with the author meeting the Mariner somewhere and hearing his tale?

      I feel like a lot of contemporary fiction right now is using a device where they start with a glimpse of the end of the book and then jump back to “where it all began” and I don’t like that nearly as much.

    2. Yes! I forgot about Moby Dick! I’ll agree that that one is another creature feature! I, too, hate the spoiled ending and the trip to how we got there. It makes me want to just get on with it. I start criticizing the pacing of the novel. I wonder if the penchant for starting older books with a “let me tell ye me tale of woe” device (yes, I decided to make them all pirates) has roots in our history as oral story tellers — and that history is why I still argue that audio books are “real” books, when some claim they are not.

    3. That definitely makes sense, that it comes from our history of oral story telling. The idea of audio books not being “real” has always been strange to me. I don’t listen to them personally but I don’t understand why they wouldn’t be included as books. They count as a story!

    4. I find it particularly offensive that those who claim audio books aren’t “real” books are dismissing anyone who has a disability that prevents them from reading words, like dyslexia or blindness.

    5. Yes! There’s definitely some ableism there! And also just some snootiness about what reading “should” look like. Who cares how other people are consuming books??

  3. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read any Richard Van Camp (well, now that I think of it, maybe a bit in the past, but not a whole book!). I’ve seen this book everywhere, it sounds like it deserves the attention it’s getting…

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