The Official Description: On an Ojibwe reservation called Languille Lake, within the small town of Geshig at the hub of the rez, two men enter into a secret romance. Marion Lafournier, a mid-twenties gay Ojibwe man, begins a relationship with his former classmate Shannon, a heavily closeted white man obsessed with his image as a northern Minnesotan. While Marion is far more open about his sexuality, neither is immune to the realities of the lives of gay men in small towns and closed societies.
One night, while roaming the dark streets of Geshig, Marion unknowingly brings to life a dog from beneath the elementary school playground. The mysterious revenant leads him to the grave of Kayden Kelliher, an Ojibwe basketball star who was murdered at the young age of seventeen and whose presence still lingers in the memories of the townsfolk. While investigating the fallen hero’s death, Marion discovers family connections and an old Ojibwe legend that may be the secret to unraveling the mystery he has found himself in.
Meanwhile, Marion’s mother, Hazel, must come to terms not only with her role in her son’s haunting but also with a mummified jawbone she uncovers at her grandmother’s burial site and the possible curse it has cast on the Lafournier family.
Set on a reservation in far northern Minnesota, This Town Sleeps explores the many ways history, culture, landscape, and lineage shape our lives, our understanding of the world we inhabit, and the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of it all.
Just the facts: debut novel, Ojibwe main character, mystery/ myth
Graceful and poetic, this story is beautiful – Kinzie Things
My thoughts bit: I thought this was a beautiful novel. When I found out it was a debut, I was even more impressed.
Dennis E. Staples is an Ojibwe author and I already know that I look forward to a continuing voice from him. There is a lovely blend of traditional and contemporary voices in this book.
The main character, Marion is a young, gay Ojibwe man. It’s clear from the beginning of the novel that he is a bit lost about where he belongs. Marion left the reservation when he was young, then returned to live in a town that was close after leaving a relationship. Some of his family is very traditional and throughout the story, Marion struggles with what he believes. There are very beautiful moments when he seems on the path back towards his spiritual roots, and then there are times when he seems almost hopeless.
The writing is beautiful. It’s often so poetic that I could have read far more of it. Staples has a great style. The tale unfurls as the novel progresses, and more people are brought into the tale. I did find the multiple POVs a little confusing at times; there were a few times when I wasn’t quite sure which character I was reading about. But, Staples’ writing style more than made up for my minor confusion.
I really enjoyed the infusions of the Ojibwe tradition throughout this story. In a way there’s a very traditional story… almost mythical, being told at the same time as there’s a modern tale.
Marion has become reacquainted with an old friend from high school. Things are different when they meet again. Marion is an out gay man and Shannon – is closeted and suffering under a childhood filled with toxic masculinity and homophobia. When they meet over a hook-up app they enter into a relationship of sorts. Marion seems to accept it’s the way his life will be and Shannon is so busy trying to hide who he is that he’s terrified.
As the two men struggle with their differences Marion enters onto a spiritual journey of sorts. One night he seems to bring a dead dog to life and it leads him to the burial place of another friend he grew up with.
This book has a component of mystery in it, an introduction to some Ojibwe traditions and a relationship story.
Things You May Want To Know: Please be aware, I’m by no means an expert on what may or may not have the potential to disturb people. I simply list things that I think a reader might want to be aware of. In this book: (SPOILERS) Descriptions of dead animals/carcasses, internalized homophobia, homophobia, toxic masculinity, racism, pot-smoking, corporal punishment of a child, child sexual abuse (relation), corruption in tribal council, domestic abuse,
I received an ARC of This Town Sleeps by Dennis E. Staples from Counterpoint Press via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review.