The Rougarou waits in the long grass next to the dirt road. It stands on its haunches, thick with ragged fur. Its claws are sharp and gleaming. It waits for you to stumble; it waits for you to stray. The Rougarou waits for sinners.
In a Métis community near Arcand, Joan’s husband goes missing. She is the only one who holds hope that he can still be found. Joan searches in the woods looking for any signs of him – tracks, clues, anything that could indicate where he went. Then one day – in a Walmart parking lot of all places- she finally catches sight of him. He’s dressed as a Reverend and preaching to a crowd. However, he doesn’t recognize Joan and cannot recall his previous life.
I picked up Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline because of how much I loved her other novel The Marrow Thieves. However, Empire of Wild is a much different book. Admittedly, I did have a hard time getting into it because I was expecting similar storytelling to her previous work. The tone and overall writing style were worlds apart from The Marrow Thieves. The symbolism with the Rougarou reminded me of how Waubgeshig Rice brilliantly used the metaphor of the Wendigo to showcase human corruption in his book Moon of the Crusted Snow. Cherie Dimaline’s attempt, however, was a bit clumsier and I found it more disrupting to the storyline than helpful.
Not to say that the book wasn’t enjoyable – the depth she gave to the characters was impeccable. Each main character is given a full back story that’s seamlessly woven into the main plot. Regardless if a character’s actions are good or bad, the reader is given a full understanding of that character’s motivations. And most importantly the story highlighted issues faced by the Métis community that go unnoticed or ignored by the rest of society. To me this was the most well written part of the book and I wish the author had brought this into the story in more depth, especially when it came to mining versus land rights in the Indigenous community.
Although Empire of Wild wasn’t quite the book I expected, it was still a decent read and I look forward to reading more of Cherie Dimaline’s work.
— Lesley L.