The plot of Larry Warwaruk’s “Bone Coulee” centers on a heinous crime committed more than sixty years ago. Mac Chorniak, a retired farmer with a passion for Ukrainian poetry, is still haunted by the senseless crime he and friends committed against a young First Nations athlete when they were teenagers. There was no punishment at the time, but Chorniak can’t forget the senseless violence. He doesn’t know that the First Nations woman who’s moved into the house next door was part of the same incident, and has a score to settle.
Throughout the novel, history grates on the present as characters try to decide what should be celebrated and what should be forgotten. The small-town residents stage a celebration to commemorate an old-time wagon trail, but also witness the destruction of the town’s last standing grain elevator. Landowners near Bone Coulee hunt for native arrowheads and display them in their basements, but have few personal relationships with real-life First Nations people. A young First Nations woman whose mother was sent to residential school learns her people’s traditions at university.
As well as a thought-provoking plot, “Bone Coulee” is packed with real small-town conversation. The farming characters in this book say exactly the sorts of things you might hear at the kitchen table in any Saskatchewan farmhouse, including references to both Grant Devine and Tommy Douglas.
With “Bone Coulee”, Larry Warwaruk has created a novel that shows his deep love for and understanding of this place, while bringing to life the uneasy and typically unspoken relationship many Saskatchewan residents have with our history.
Buy the book from Coteau Books.
The Saskatchewan Publisher’s GroupSaskatchewan Publishers Group gave me a copy of this book to write this review. But I had already bought a copy, and would have loved it anyway!