I picked up my copy of Truth & Bright Water at the 2015 Hagey Lecture featuring Thomas King. His lecture entitled “Love in the Time of Cholera: Canadian Edition” was moving, topical, and, of course, exceedingly funny. Meeting authors I adore is always a panic-filled moment for me. I fear that meeting my hero may reveal a real person who I dislike and it will taint my reading experience, especially of a favourite novel. That absolutely was not the case with King.
After announcing that it would be his last public lecture, and that the proximity of Waterloo to his hometown of Guelph was a great motivator for him to come to this engagement, the grand reputable lecture felt more like a group coming together to discuss where Canada is today. From the black mark that is bottled water to his life at home with his wife, King speaks just as he writes: sharp, kind, and playful. If the Inconvenient Indian could be a performance piece, King’s lecture would be it.
Needless to say, I had to buy some of his fiction and then immediately put it away until exams were over but waiting only made it cracking it open for the holidays sweeter. Truth & Bright Water follows Tecumseh, a young man living in Truth, which is across the border and river from Bright Water, a reserve in Canada. Tecumseh’s relationship with his family and neighbours perfectly captures the holiday experience as he navigates tensions between his parents, his cousin Lum’s tragedy, his misbehaving dog Solider, and finding work.
“Sometimes the best way to get my mother talking about a particular topic is to change the subject and then work your way back to where you wanted to be. It starts her mind moving in a different direction, and after a while, she may forget about what she didn’t want to tell me,” says Tecumseh. No line more aptly captures the entire book than this. Trying to find answers to what happened to his Aunt Cassie, why his parents split up, what is really happening to Lum at home, and who the mysterious woman dancing on the cliff was, you feel his frustrations as he never quite gets an answer.
Lying on the couch reading Tecumseh’s almost-conversations with his family and the cast of Truth and Bright Water will put you in the mood for visiting your own family. King perfectly captures the unique way we talk to family, complete with the secrets and gestures you can only share with someone you’ve lived with for many years. The novel at times feels like one long conversation. Sometimes it feels like a sad poem, every image a beautiful snapshot of life, from the coulees surrounded by fog to macaroni with butter and ketchup.
I am so glad I picked Truth & Bright Water as my starting point to King’s fiction. Living with Tecumseh for the Christmas break was exactly what I needed and when I finished the book it felt like saying goodbye when you know you won’t see someone again for a few months. Quiet and sweet is King’s novel and perfect for any season. I can’t wait to read semi-sequel The Back of the Turtle.