When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break – a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house – she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.
In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim – police, family, and friends – tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.
A powerful intergenerational family saga, The Break showcases Vermette’s abundant writing talent and positions her as an exciting new voice in Canadian literature.
NOMINATING LIBRARY COMMENTS
In The Break, Katherena Vermette brings a poet’s way with language to a story that brings together ten points of view around a brutal act of violence. With great empathy, she illustrates the generational effects of trauma on indigenous women and families, while also highlighting her characters’ resilience and close bonds of love.
This powerful and timely novel, set within the indigenous community of the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, features accomplished prose and a riveting narrative. Vermette creates unforgettable characters who capture readers and draw us into the emotionally demanding. Through these heartbreaking characters, the novel addresses substantial social issues, including violence against indigenous women. The Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Award jury observed that “this is a novel of social importance (which) transcends politics.” The themes are anchored in the depiction of a particularly Canadian tragedy, the the motivations and emotions will resonate any place where there are indigenous cultures. Vermette imbues The Break with compassion. However, although the context of the story is tragic, there is hope in the message of endurance and survival through love and community. Structurally, the rotation of characters’ voices has been likened to a talking circle, allowing the back stories to be revealed and the plot to build via many single tracks which eventually become a multi-part choir. This cyclical technique offers no tidy conclusions, but rather challenges readers to think long after the last page. The Break is an important book from an independent Canadian publisher. Finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, the Roger’s Writers Trust Fiction Prize, Canada Reads and others and included on many “best” lists.