“This room feels like home, full of silent memories and echoes. They slip in and out of her mind, one by one. Like the pictures on her walls, this is where her memories are housed. Stella doesn’t have to look at them. But, of course, she does. And remembers. All the things here that she’s tried to forget, and all the things that happened just over there that she can’t ever forget.”
The Break is the most draining and emotionally challenging book I have ever read. Katherena Vermette’s novel is an incredibly emotional, powerful story that hinges on the strength and love between women who are attempting to pick up the pieces of their lives following a brutally violent act.
The Break is a gripping novel that follows the story of a young Métis mother, Stella, who witnesses a terrible crime being committed on the barren land behind her home, nicknamed “the Break”. What unravels is a story told by numerous narrators – police officers, family members, friends – each of whom is attached in some way to this moment.
In terms of the plot, the one main complaint I have is the loss of momentum and suspense that follows the first chapter. The initial scene did an excellent job of setting up a literary thriller in which I was very invested. The following chapters, however, were much slower and took a lot of time to introduce layers of characters who were all related and entwined to varying (and sometimes confusing) degrees. This shift in style really dissipated the suspense from the discovery the reader makes in the first chapter.
I found many of the women in this story to be very similar characters – almost interchangeable – so that I had a very difficult time keeping the relationships straight. The family tree helped, but I would have preferred not having to check back so many times to rediscover who was who. On a related note, I think this story had too many narrators. While I like the idea of having various characters telling the story from their own perspectives, the novel had an overwhelming number of shifts in voice. More than once, I began a new chapter and could not remember whether or not this character had yet narrated a chapter. This disorientation made it difficult to read the book over the course of several sittings.
There is an enormous amount of material in this novel. Each chapter is a beautifully developed vignette of its own and each character is slowly developed at a pace that is precise and deliberate. Feeling raw and genuine despite its being fiction, this dark, haunting portrayal of a Métis community is as timely as ever. Referring not only to a field between two groups of houses but also to broken relationships, The Break is a timely and essential depiction of love, underscored by explorations of many of the issues that are prominent in Indigenous communities. Coming through most loudly in the novel, however, is the strength and resilience that embodies this community. The gritty, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful story portrays three generations of incredibly strong women caring for and supporting their families and communities in the darkest of times.