A novelist is not a mathematician, scientist or a perfectionist. He need not give correct, acceptable details and descriptions as for every character created by him in the story as there are many limitations to write a novel. A good novelist gives realistic assessment of the characters as far as possible only. To obtain a good end result, the main and ideal characters should not move far away from the ground realities. When the theme is social, the author has the added responsibility. The future generations will read the novel as a document of history.
The question is how an author should tackle the details related to the complicated and controversial issues that make the novel. Every character in a novel is part of the society that he has pictured. If it belongs to the sensitive category, like religion the responsibility of the author is manifold. He is walking on the razor’s edge in such situations. Strong and desperate reactions from public and media are possible to such writings and the author can not escape responsibility to justify his stand.
A good book will do everything to churn your emotions. It will provide you with joy, make you sad and angry, and it may even confuse you. In the end the important aspect is that it will provide you with a sense of fulfillment, making you ask the question—‘I have learnt something new, hitherto not known to me. Do such things happen in reality? ’ Kiss of the fur queen, by Tomson Highway is a ‘dangerous kiss. ’ Many will have problems in understanding the intensity and the depth of this kiss. The novel is not a smooth ride on the highway.
The plot structure is the zigzag path full of puddles. Born into a magical Cree world in snowy northern Manitoba, Champion and Ooneemeetoo, Okimasis are all too soon separated from their family and sent to the hostile world of a Catholic residential school much against their wishes. Their language is forbidden, their names are changed to Jeremiah and Gabriel, and both boys are abused by priests. As young men, they are cut off from their own people and alienated from the culture imposed upon them.
It is the battle or survival for the two brothers. Highway has handled his difficult characters very well. If one assumes that the canvass for his writing is a pond with slush and mud, he has proved to be the shining lotus flowering there beautifully, and demanding attention and appreciation. He has shown marked creativity in vulgarity, controlled abhorrence as for the priests in the Residential School. A lie repeated a thousand times from a platform becomes the truth. This seems to be the ‘forced’ understanding of Gabriel.
Just as school children take the punishment by their teachers for granted, just as wife-beating is accepted in some sections of the society as the routine episode, Gabriel treats molestation on a positive note—it is one those things that happens in a Residential School, with priests. He was of course not molested. His equation with the priests is like his “most favorite food, warm honey. ” Probably Gabriel was a homosexual before or after he arrived at the Residential School.
The students hail from different cultures; whereas Gabriel has no problems in embracing both the cultures, Jeremiah has a tough time to assimilate both Native and part of the white culture. Tomson Highway gives lucid description about the many problems that the students in the residential schools face. Sex related issues assume the top priority, because it has to do with one’s character. The subdued, compulsive silence of the two brothers is really moving. They are not in a position to protest vigorously against the treatment meted out to them at the Birch Lake Residential School by the priests.
The description of the author as for the events related to these two brothers is disturbing. The book is highly readable for another reason. The subject matter is personal and the stages of life detailed in the story—it seems—one has gone through at some stage of the life or other. Such issues are not uncommon for the modern youngsters, like disease, adulthood, the abuse, passion for music and dance etc. Had they not been abused what would have been the course of the lives of the two brothers? —this is an important question.
The surprising aspect of the novel is when Jeremiah gave up piano, the art so dear to his heart and at the stage when it was a tremendous driving force for him. One sees the exhibition of power behind the sexual act committed by Priest Lafleur. He is in the demanding position and Jeremiah in the must oblige condition. It is the combat between the unequal powers. The boys see the punishment meted out to them in the light of Law of Divine Retribution. There is much more. The acts of destiny seem repetitive just like the change of season happens at regular intervals.
Does destiny repeat itself in a routine way? It is described in the scene of triumph and then the champion being kissed by the Fur Queen. Abraham is the first recipient of this ‘gift’ from the queen after he wins the dog race. The same passage is repeated again (Highway, 1999, p, 214-215), but the beneficiary is Jeremiah. In the last chapter when Gabriel dies, Abraham’s win is highlighted again, but this time with Gabriel’s name only. Does fate function in the prescribed manner, which can be anticipated? —this is the moot question for which no fixed and final answer is provided by Thomson Highway.
He has depicted the realities of a Catholic Boarding School. It is an altogether different world for the boys, their psychological barrier is totally damaged. They are renamed, teased, alienated and assaulted physically and morally. All this is done under the sacred roof of the Church. The Priests had cross on their necks but not Christ in their hearts. The carefree idyllic lifestyle of the boys was interrupted at a young age, by the so-called protective and benevolent forces of society, but in reality they did exactly the opposite by shamelessly plundering the sacred inner-kingdom of the students.
Molestation and homosexuality are acts not acceptable –such acts by Priests, the moral custodians of the society, are condemnable. It is difficult to condone them. They are supposed to be the guardians and guiding spirits to the children left under their custody. The scenes, with Father Lafleur doing mean activities like rubbing his body “against the child’s lips, over and over again (Highway, 1999, p. 78) read dirty. The disturbing part of the novel is the style in which Highway presents Jeremiah’s sexuality; he seemed to enjoy his suffering.
He says, “Yes, father please! Make me bleed! Please, please make me bleed! ”(Highway, 1999, p. 85) In the end, the total rejection of the Church in favor of their simple native religion by Jeremiah and Gabriel is very well described by Tomson Highway. You feel a sense of justice and fair play, by this final cycle of destiny. Complexity of each personality in the novel is developed in an outstanding style. The difficult relationships of the siblings are pictured well.
The struggle of not getting along all the time and yet at the same time maintaining the brotherly love and the essential dignity is the outstanding part of the book. Loss of culture to any individual means loss of personality. That Tomson Highway could handle this difficult theme makes the novel a unique literary product. In the Western world, the Priests are supposed to lay the moral foundation for the children, youngsters, and to the elderly through counseling in the weekly congregations.
Tomson Highway strikes at the very root of the system by questioning its bona fide. A serious social issue is discussed in the novel. This issue is also linked to other problems like alcohol, drugs, juvenile delinquency, etc. Highway gives a stern warning to those who claim to mold the society.
Highway, Tomson: Book: Kiss of the Fur Queen. Paperback: 310 pages Publisher: Anchor Canada; 1 edition (Sep 14 1999) Language: English ISBN-10: 0385258801 ISBN-13: 978-0385258807