What the Living Do by Maggie Dwyer

by

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.


  • 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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About the author

Vancouver author, poet, songwriter Bill Arnott is the national bestselling author of Gone Viking: A Travel Saga (WIBA Book Awards Finalist and ABF International Book Awards Finalist). His work is published in literary journals and anthologies in Canada, the US, UK, Europe, Asia and Australia and his column Bill Arnott’s Beat is a feature at New Reader Magazine, Canadian Authors Association, The Miramichi Reader, Federation of BC Writers, and League of Canadian Poets. Bill’s been awarded for prose, poetry, songwriting and performed at hundreds of events internationally. He’s a Director on numerous Boards, Writer-in-Residence, creator of Bill’s Artist Showcase, and for his eight-year Gone Viking trek has been awarded a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society. @billarnott_aps | https://billarnottaps.wordpress.com/

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