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The Break (2016)

by Katherena Vermette

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3932852,806 (4.28)69
Stella, a young Metis mother, lives with her family by the Break, an isolated strip of land on the edge of their small Canadian town. Glancing out of her window one winter's evening Stella spots someone in trouble; horrified, she calls the police. But when they arrive, no one is there, scuff marks in the compacted snow the only sign anything may have happened.What follows is a heartbreaking and powerful tale of a community in crisis as the people connected to the victim, a young girl on the edge of a precipice, begin to lay bare their stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou is a social worker grappling with the end of a relationship. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre with no one to turn to. Officer Scott is a Metis policeman caught between two worlds. A powerful family saga, Katherena Vermette's urgent, acclaimed and award-winning novel shines a light on the fear every woman carries within her - fear of male power and violence - and on the love and empathy shared by all women.'I loved this - very tough and real.' Margaret Atwood'Katherena Vermette is a tremendously gifted writer, a dazzling talent... The lives of the girls and women in The Break are not easy, but their voices are complex, urgent, and unsparing. Vermette lays bare what it means to survive, not only once, but multiple times, against the forces of private and national histories.' Madeleine Thien, author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing'Vermette is a staggering talent. Reading The Break is like a revelation; stunning, heartbreaking and glorious. From her exquisitely rendered characters to her fully realized world and the ratcheting tension, I couldn't put it down. Absolutely riveting.' Eden Robinson, author of Monkey Beach… (more)
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» See also 69 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
On the surface this novel is about the rape of the young teen Emily, her recovery, and the police case. On a deeper level this book is about Native women and their relationships. It is about the importance of family and long-time friends, of culture, and of the land. Vermette touches on many Indigenous and Metis issues: family breakdown, loss of culture, the need to be on the land (and the confusion and frustration some people in particular have in the city), discrimination, and violence toward women. These issues all play into each other, and make the others worse as people feel lost and hated.

Coco (spelling? I listened on Hoopla) is the matriarch of this family, Emily is her great-granddaughter. Coco has seen a lot and been through a lot (including the beating death of a daughter), but she has kept this family together in Winnipeg. Even when one strays, she returns home. Widowhood saved her from her abusive husband, and her surviving daughter and granddaughter have made better choices in their men. They all have each others' backs.
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I listened on Hoopla audio, and the narrator was fantastic. The perfect accent to go with this book. ( )
  Dreesie | Sep 13, 2020 |
2016 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize finalist

Against the backdrop of a devastating yet sadly not-unfamiliar crime story, Katherena Vermette’s novel The Break explores the impacts of intergenerational trauma, racism, and sexism in Winnipeg, through the shifting voices of Indigenous women themselves – their pain, the layers of adversity and violence they face, but mostly their strength.

When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.

In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim — police, family, and friends — tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.

A powerful intergenerational family saga, The Break showcases Vermette’s abundant writing talent and positions her as an exciting new voice in Canadian literature.
  CarolBurrows | Jul 29, 2020 |
See my full review here

I also discuss this book in the context of Canada Reads 2017 and provide a brief review here

This book was gripping from the very start. For me, it was also gut-wrenching (hence taking a month to read it).

On the surface, this is a story about a violent sexual assault, but it’s so much deeper than that. Vermette dives into the lives of each of the central characters (the victim’s family, the perpetrator, and one of the cops investigating the incident). We learn, quickly, that this is also about family, society, hope, and being Native. Each and every one of the characters has been shaped by the pain of assault, broken relationships, the death of loved ones, being Native, and family connections (or, the lack thereof). It makes for a stunning, tragic and beautiful narrative.

Something that I haven’t seen mentioned in other reviews is how Vermette tackled the perpetrator. She didn’t present this person as evil, but as a victim of circumstance. Yes, she has chosen a life of violence and her actions were terrible, but we learn, through the book, that she was shaped by a broken mother and an abusive home. She’s tough and mean, but I couldn’t help wanting to reach out to her the same way I wanted to reach out to all the other characters. What set her apart was that she didn’t have the same support the others had, so she closed herself off to love, choosing gang life and loyalties instead. ( )
  obtusata | Jan 9, 2020 |
The Break by Author Katherena Vermette opens with a young mother, Stella, witnessing what she believes is a violent sexual assault. It is happening near her home in an area known as 'The Break', a stretch of land owned by the hydro company. She wants to do something to stop it but her baby is crying, it is dark, and there are several assailants. She calls the police but by the time they arrive, the attackers have left and, a few minutes after, she saw a small figure stand up, pull up their pants, and walk unsteadily away. The police investigate but are convinced it was a gang-related beating and clearly aren't interested. Even her husband suspects she is wrong but she cannot shake her conviction or her guilt that she could have done more.

We learn about what happened that night on the break through the voices of four generations of First Nations women. They have lived hard lives full of loss as well as betrayal by their husbands, by other men, both First Nations and white, not infrequently by other women, and by a system that doesn't value them. Despite all this, they are strong resilient women who rely on their own strength and on the support and strength of the other women in their family to deal with this just as they have always done.

This is also a story about how poverty, homelessness, cultural loss, and prejudice can lead to despair which, in turn, can lead to violence even across generations. This is made clear especially in the actions of the main perpetrator who is one of the few voices from outside the family. Although Vermette doesn't excuse her actions, she also shows how they are connected to her background of poverty, abandonment, and years left in the care of people who cared nothing for her.

Among all the voices, there is only one male - a young Metis police officer, one of the officers who investigates the crime. He is married to a white woman who sees his Metis status as simply a boon to be used to get ahead. He does it but he hates that others know he is Metis. He feels he lives in two world, First Nations and white, but isn't welcome in either. The only place he does feel at home is when he visits his Indigenous mother.

The Break is a beautifully written, compelling, and powerful story about the issues First Nations, especially women, are forced to face. It is heartbreaking at times but surprisingly hopeful at the end and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Thanks to Edelweiss+ and House of Anansi Press for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review ( )
  lostinalibrary | Oct 10, 2019 |
Stella, a métis women sees a girl in trouble on the Break, she has no idea it is her cousin. She calls the police to alert them of a crime. The rest of the story develops from all the people connected to the violence. We get to experience the lives in this community and the after effects of trauma emerges. ( )
  janismack | Jul 24, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
I’m basically giving you her resume because The Break doesn’t read like an impressive first novel; it reads like a masterstroke from someone who knows what they’re doing....Vermette is skilled at writing with a language that is conversational and comfortable and with a poetic ease that makes the hard things easier to swallow. The result is a book that is at times emotionally demanding, funny, suspenseful, and always engaging.
 
The language the characters use is realistic, though harsh and violent. This is especially true of some of the younger characters, who cannot seem to speak a single sentence that does not contain the word “fuck.”..While the violent characters in the novel are despicable, it is a testament to Vermette’s skill that they also appear pitiable. The Break is a condemnation of reprehensible individual behaviour, but also of a broader society incapable of dealing effectively with problems of addiction, poverty, homelessness, and despair...In unfolding her multigenerational narrative, Vermette ties together several disparate plot strands en route to a realistic conclusion. However, the way Vermette resolves some of her plot points is a bit too pat... However, fiction is capable of helping us to comprehend difference and otherness, and The Break offers clear insight into people struggling to secure a place in the world.



 
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Epigraph
Betty, if I start to write a poem about you it might turn out to be about hunting season instead, about an 'open season " on native women - from " Helen Betty Osborne"
by Marilyn Dumont
" The most common way people give up their power is by thinking that they don't have any." - Alice Walker
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For my mother

In honour of those who have been lost . With love to those have found a way through - you lead us.
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The Break is a piece of land just west of McPhillips Street.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Stella, a young Metis mother, lives with her family by the Break, an isolated strip of land on the edge of their small Canadian town. Glancing out of her window one winter's evening Stella spots someone in trouble; horrified, she calls the police. But when they arrive, no one is there, scuff marks in the compacted snow the only sign anything may have happened.What follows is a heartbreaking and powerful tale of a community in crisis as the people connected to the victim, a young girl on the edge of a precipice, begin to lay bare their stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou is a social worker grappling with the end of a relationship. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre with no one to turn to. Officer Scott is a Metis policeman caught between two worlds. A powerful family saga, Katherena Vermette's urgent, acclaimed and award-winning novel shines a light on the fear every woman carries within her - fear of male power and violence - and on the love and empathy shared by all women.'I loved this - very tough and real.' Margaret Atwood'Katherena Vermette is a tremendously gifted writer, a dazzling talent... The lives of the girls and women in The Break are not easy, but their voices are complex, urgent, and unsparing. Vermette lays bare what it means to survive, not only once, but multiple times, against the forces of private and national histories.' Madeleine Thien, author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing'Vermette is a staggering talent. Reading The Break is like a revelation; stunning, heartbreaking and glorious. From her exquisitely rendered characters to her fully realized world and the ratcheting tension, I couldn't put it down. Absolutely riveting.' Eden Robinson, author of Monkey Beach

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amazon ca:2016 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize finalist

When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break ― a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house ― she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.

In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim ― police, family, and friends ― tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.

A powerful intergenerational family saga, The Break showcases Vermette’s abundant writing talent and positions her as an exciting new voice in Canadian literature.
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