I’m not one to be super inclined towards finding meaning in coincidence, but two days after I got a copy (finally!) of In Case I Go, author Angie Abdou appeared on CBC’s Unreserved to talk about the book. I hadn’t started the novel yet, so I sat in my car in the Buy Low Foods parking lot and listened to her interview with Rosanna Deerchild, which you can also find information about here.
Abdou has been at the centre of some controversy due to her inclusion of First Nations characters in her book. Abdou consulted with the nation she references in her book and has created well-rounded characters, both white and indigenous. I won’t wade into the argument of should white people write characters of other backgrounds because I do not claim to have context on or experience in this. But I would recommend this article, if you are interested in the subject.
I will stick to the book itself: a ghost story without ghosts, according to the author and content. Eli, 10 years old, moves to a small town with his parents, whose marriage is struggling and both of whom appear to have drinking problems. He’s a sickly boy, who nearly died as an infant. The move to Coalton and the disturbance of a historic graveyard weakens the wall between the present and the past—and Eli starts to embody a long dead ancestor with a troubled past. He’s not the only one experiencing the impact of his ancestors: his only friend, Mary (a Ktunaxa girl) is caught up too.
In Case I Go examines how we carry our pasts and our ancestors. Abdou skillfully pulls the past into the present, using Eli as a conduit. I myself would be terrified to see what Eli sees, to experience what he experiences, but Eli carries on with aplomb. It’s a hard novel to categorize: on the one hand, it’s a psychological mystery, and on the other its literary historical fiction, with a healthy dose of contemporary fiction thrown in. I always enjoy novels that are more than one thing. It’s not a comfortable read: children see things we’d rather protect them from and some of the adults who should know better are irresponsible. I’d describe the book as a bit of a literary experiment, but not in the way Afterglow is. There are clear limits, boundaries and a plot that resolves itself—which is always a relief to me.