The Strangers by Katherena Vermette

The Strangers by Katherena Vermette revisits the character of Phoenix from The Break; however, The Strangers stands alone, and you don’t need to read The Break. The Strangers delves deeper into Phoenix and her family over five years as they struggle with the consequences of their actions within their family and with a system that has failed them.

What are some themes explored?

The Strangers are a multi-generational Métis family living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. While they share pain, struggles, and inherited trauma, they have become strangers to each other. Themes of multi-generational trauma, racism, misogyny, colonialism, anger, rage, and abuse are explored.

Are the characters easy to connect and relate to? Do they change and grow with the conflicts they experience?

There are a few members and stories of the Stranger family to keep track of here, Phoenix, her sister Cedar-Sage, her mother Elsie, and grandmother, Margaret. Each with their own conflicts, fighting to survive in a fractured system. We see some insight into their lives, background, and trauma. While the pace is slow, a lot happens within their own family and outside forces. You need to pay attention to how each woman deals with her pain and struggles rather than the events, and I felt overwhelmed. I found it hard to relate or connect to the characters, and it didn’t feel like the story was going anywhere or moving forward.

There is a lot of growth here with the characters as we see them struggle with their conflicts. It is easy to be sympathetic to the characters knowing what each of the women’s conflicts is and how they affected one generation to another, adding layers and complexity to the story.

Did the story inspire me? Did the stories have me think deeply, challenge my thoughts, and see something different? Or learn anything new?

The story ends in a somewhat hopeful way, and we do see the character’s love, success, and growth, but a lot of focus is on the sadness and pain that comes out as anger and rage. I found it hard to see past that, making it not very inspiring. It did allow me to think about the characters and the struggles they faced; however, it felt like a narrow look at one family’s trauma.

“Margaret used to think this was normal, that all families were made up of so many sad stories, but as she got older, it seemed only Indians, Métis, who had sorrow built into their bones.”

I do think if you are unfamiliar with the themes explored here it will allow you to think deeply, challenge your thoughts, and see something different

Do I recommend it? Yes. I liked The Break a bit more than The Strangers. The Break followed many characters but focused on a single event, making it easy to connect to the story and characters.

Published in /read in May 2022

Genre: Native Canadian Literature

Thoughts on The Break

The Break is an emotional, powerful and intense literary thriller about the strength and love that connects a family of women and friends together, while dealing with a violent act. The Break refers to a field between two rolls of houses but also refers to broken relationships.

The story is told in shifting perspectives of connecting characters as they share their past and present stories. This added suspense to the story as I pieced together how the characters were connected to the crime. There is a large cast of characters and at times I needed to use the helpful family tree that is included at the beginning of the book to sort them all out.

I really enjoyed the beauty and the love that connected these women amid the suffering and their struggles to survive. It will be a story that stays with me for a very long time.

Published in Sept 2016/read in March 2017

Genre: Native Canadian Literature