Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Stories:Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese


street art in downtown Vancouver


I have always loved a "good story".  As a  bookworm, as a literature major and as a teacher-librarian who spent her days choosing and reading books to children, I have found great joy in reading and sharing my reactions with others. Book clubs offer opportunities to experience books that are often outside our comfort zone and to learn more about ourselves and our world.

Richard Wagamese, is a Canadian Ojibway author who has written both fiction and nonfiction. Ragged Company is his fourth novel. It is the story of four homeless people who find shelter in a movie theatre during a cold spell.  The characters become entranced by the movie stories and develop a relationship with a retired journalist, a storyteller who has lost his stories.

During the first few chapters, we know very little about our characters. They are "rounders", survivors of the street with "street names",  united by their friendship and by their suspicion and contempt of "square johns".

An unexpected event brings the characters into the "square john" world.  Bit by bit, they are forced to reveal their identities to each other and to the reader. Only by telling their stories and by "going home",  can the circle of life be complete and the pain be healed.

Wagamese weaves the native spiritual beliefs of Amelia "One For The Dead", an Ojibway woman who has lost everyone that she has ever loved and who is visited by "the shadow ones", and the stories of the movies that the characters come to enjoy into a rich tale of love and redemption.

In my neighbourhood, we have two men who sit outside the shops. I keep spare change in a small purse and I do stop when I do my errands. As with the characters in the novel, I do not know their names or their stories. I am a "square john". Ragged Company provided me with a "view from the concrete".

We will be discussing this book at my United Readers book club which is a church-based group.
There are members of this group who have made the effort to learn more about our First Nations
people and their struggles. Others make sandwiches to take down to the Skid Row area of Vancouver.

There are those who question the value of reading fiction. Yes, there really are! It seems to me that it is through stories that we learn to develop the empathy and compassion to grow in the "real world".

2 comments:

  1. Isn't this a lovely book? I've taught it to first-year students many times, and as much as many of them resist being forced to take a literature-based writing course, they have generally really taken to this novel, been very moved -- and educated -- by it.
    I absolutely agree with you that stories help us imagine others' lives so that we develop empathy and compassion. So important!

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  2. Yes, I think that Ragged Company is a great book for first-year students. Those of us who have lived in comfortable situations have little understanding of what can happen when things "go bad". We had a guest minister from First United (Hastings, east of Main) speak at church recently. So many of her parishioners die early deaths from addictions. It seems that there are many wounded people in the
    city. I'm looking forward to our discussion of the Ragged Company because a few of our members have been involved with Reconciliation. Although, except for Amelia, this is not really a "First Nations"
    novel.

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