“That’s strange, Will. Can’t imagine Harlen missing this.”
Neither could I. Harlen went to everything. He went to all the powwow. He went to all the funerals. He went to all the weddings, the births and most of the court cases. Any time there was a gathering of two or more Indians in a hundred-miles radius of Medicine River, chances were one of them was Harlen.
Medicine River by Thomas King is an incredible book. It merges the short story and novel media to create a story that is complete even in its episodic nature.
Harlen Bigbear is the story’s strongest character, in my opinion. One of those characters you learn to know slowly while you read, because he’s so complex you can’t take him in all at once. Although I believe his relationship with the main character Will really makes the character shine.
The stories don’t have a title but a number. The one numbered “seven”, which tells about how Harlen and Will first met, is my absolute favourite in the book. It makes me laugh and cry and it’s just very moving. Harlen is a friend of Will’s brother. When his mother dies, Will goes back to Medicine River for the funeral and that’s when he meets Harlen the first time. This is one of the first dialogue they exchange.MEDICINE RIVER by Thomas King - A story built by many stories #shortstory Click To Tweet
“My job’s in Toronto.”
Harlen turned the radio down a bit. “Can’t see Ninastiko from Toronto,” he said. “So, when you think you’ll be moving back home?”
“Sure. Most of us figured that, with your mother and all, you’d be coming home soon.”
There was no logic in it, but my stomach tightened when Harlen said home.
“James says you take picture. People pay you for doing that?”
“You take the pictures of all those disasters that you see in the newspapers?”
“No, I take pictures of people mostly. Weddings, portraits, things like that.”
“That’s good. We got a lot of people out here but not many disasters. You could start your own business, you know?”
I told Harlen I liked Toronto. There were good restaurants, places to go. Things to do. Medicine River was small.
“American Hotel is a great place for a beer. Baggy’s just opened a sit-down restaurant. You got the Rockies, too. You see over there,” Harlen said, gesturing with his chin. “Ninastiko… Chief Mountain. That’s how we know where we are. When we can see the mountains, we know we’re home. Didn’t your mother ever tell you that?”
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