What the Living Do by Maggie Dwyer

Until the age of twelve, Georgia Lee Kay-Stern believed she was Jewish—the story of her Cree birth family had been kept secret. Now she’s living on her own and attending first-year university, and with her adoptive parents on sabbatical in Costa Rica, the old questions are back. What does it mean to be Native? How could her life have been different?

Author Maggie Dwyer sets a cool, unwavering tone directly out of the gates with her novel What the Living Do. It took a couple of years for this book to find its way to my reading stack, but the relatively brief passage of time is irrelevant. Dwyer’s story of familial introspection, questions of race, conflict and revelation remains timeless.

I don’t want her dreams. I am a branch that was grafted on to their family tree. More like a twig. A brittle twig that could be snapped off.

Perhaps one of the most alluring facets of reading is that sense of delving into new lives, peeking in a stranger’s medicine cabinet, the tiny surge of dark adrenaline that accompanies taboos.

Somehow things in the girl’s suite were not right. Maud did not know exactly how to put it. She disliked this necessary sorting and sifting through the detritus of the girl’s life. It felt as if the team were making a further invasion of her privacy. She remembered that the girl’s hair was short, straight, dyed a deep black. She stripped off her jacket and draped it over her shoulders since there was no place to hang it up. The air was heavy, overheated, and stale. A headache-inducing atmosphere and within that stultifying quality of staleness there was something feral.

I applaud author Maggie Dwyer, an accomplished writer tackling tough, ever-thorny topics in What the Living Do. Topics that should continue to be explored and shared. Throughout the book, scenes are well set, effectively yet judiciously descriptive, and the dialogue rings true. From a writer knowledgeable in an extensive breadth of Canada—places and people, this is a well-told tale. A story, like any good story, that may raise more questions than answers.


About the Author: Maggie Dwyer’s short stories have been published in literary magazines and broadcast on CBC. Once More With Feeling was chosen by Carol Shields to be part of CBC Radio’s Festival of Fiction. Misplaced Love, Maggie’s debut collection, was published by Turnstone Press. Born in Stratford, Ontario, Maggie spent her salad days in Toronto. Now, after twenty interesting years in Winnipeg’s south end and sixteen more on Vancouver Island, she lives and writes near Commanda, Ontario.

See also  The Rick Revelle Interview 2.0*

  • Title: What the Living Do
  • Author: Maggie Dwyer
  • Publisher: Friesen Press, 2018
  • Pages: 305 pp
  • ISBN-10: 1525528696
  • ISBN-13: 978-1525528699

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West Coast Editor/Poetry Reviewer at The Miramichi Reader -- Website

Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of the suspense-thriller series The Gamble Novellas, the poetry collection Forever Cast in Endless Time, and WIBA and ABF book awards finalist, Gone Viking: A Travel Saga. He’s been awarded for prose, poetry, songwriting, is the producer of Bill's Artist Showcase, and for his eight-year Gone Viking trek has been granted a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society. When not trekking the globe with a small pack, weatherproof journal and laughably outdated camera phone, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, making friends and misbehaving. Watch for the follow-up to Bill’s award-winning bestseller, the soon-to-be-released Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries, (RMB Fall 2021).

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