Category Archives: Tyler Gabrysh

Simpson’s spirited stories shift perceptions

Islands of Decolonial Love

By Leanne Simpson

ARP, 143 pp., $14.95

Reviewed by Tyler Gabrysh

Leanne Simpson’s latest work, Islands of Decolonial Love, is an impressive collection of short stories. Simpson’s book includes poems and brief vignettes, as well as audio downloads for select stories to round out the reader’s experience.

Simpson’s writing concerns Indigenous Peoples– particularly those of her own Nishnaabeg nation.  Her work conveys heartache, sensitivity, and innocence, sometimes at odds with circumstance, blemished truth, and awkwardness.  Readers are introduced to this collection through the narrator’s unsettling (and implied) account of a relationship incident.

Throughout the book, many words (and chapter titles) replicate the language of the Nishnaabeg with an according translation given at each chapter’s end. While this is admirable, a single index would have been helpful.

“waaseyaaban” opens with the narrator describing the single shower all four family members take as mother “instructed us to wash ourselves and our five pairs of dirty underwear.” Then, “binesiwag” tells of an eight-year-old’s resistance to staying with relatives for the first time. Next, “it takes an ocean not to break” reveals disdain for an ignorant white therapist who uses the word “aboriginal” too frequently.

Simpson jolts us with jarring content, including the following from the narrator’s friend: “lucy says that i made a critical mistake on my first day of therapy. ‘you have to lay all of your indian shit out on the first day, drug abuse, suicide attempts, all the times you got beat up, all of that shit. then you sit back and watch how they react. then you’ll know if they can deal or not.’ ”

As effectively as Simpson jolts us here, she finesses elsewhere. “Caged” concerns a spotted lynx and a male bear, along with  “nozhem,” a female bear spirit. The tone is warm, reaching for compassion. “She told him 10,000 years of everything” is rich in atmosphere as a thirty-something waits at a music gig to interview the lead singer before a timely romantic encounter. “For asinykwe” is tender prose about a woman healer. Although not a central focus, humour pops up now and again, too.

Overall, Simpson provides a host of rarely heard characters and various means of travel and experience. The language is woven with spirit, symbolism and metaphor. Phrases strike a chord and readers are made to re-examine presuppositions they may have held about Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

Tyler Gabrysh ( is a writer who lives in Victoria.

Harris wins his second contest

Thorazine Beach

By Bradley Harris

Anvil Press

127 pp., $16

Reviewed by Tyler Gabrysh

In this private-investigator-driven intrigue, dialogue proves hard hitting, wise ass, rarely subtle and never dull. Action isn’t far behind despite events often cloaked in unknowns and half-truths.

Working  in the disparate socio-economic divisions of Memphis, Jack Minyard is a transplanted Canuck who experiences both ends of the economic spectrum, although pretending to hobnob in ritzy clubs is about as good as it gets.

Generally he scrapes by in the trenches of uncomfortably long stakeouts (in car and in thicket), and eking it out in a series of shabby motels with suspect clientele who likewise call such places home. Life for him is an unravelling carpet. And not in red. Now 60,  a recovering alcoholic, and Thorazine user (to ‘even things out’), Minyard has also been ditched by wife Lynette, and that’s not all. His diet is terrible, portliness reigns, and his name is still smeared (innocent or not),  from a money laundering and fraud scandal a while back.

Whether this history is presented in Ruby Ruby, the first of a series based on our lead character is unclear. That book by  Harris won the 21st Annual International 3-Day Novel Writing Contest. What’s even more impressive is that Harris became the only repeat winner with this book in the 2012 competition.

The main characters of Thorazine Beach all chide Jack (thanks in no part to his weakened confidence), but they also care about him in ways more often implied than expressed. Readers witness the sass of Starbucks shift supervisor Nicki Jenks and MacDonald of the Memphis PD, another attitudinal character Jack works for (with promise of nebulous payment). He’s never fully privy to his assignment but it’s one he’s fully counted on for.

Brutish Eileen at Red Line Investigations occasionally throws him a bone, however he’s technically not an employee. And though he receives praise for breaking big on a big bucks insurance fraud, no takers at the office on his ‘my treat’ after-hours celebration offer.

Unknown to him, she arranges a meeting with Barbara Jean McCorkle, a church zealot, casserole-making, uppity, cringe-worthy sort of lady. She already knows Jack, wants his help on her own case concerning sudden money-bags husband Clayton, but becomes unsettled when he presses her for concrete details.

Even though readers will root for Minyard as Minyard finds his backbone, the novel has its weak points. The chapters do not run sequentially (though they provide us a brief heading of calendar date, time, and location). This does unnecessary disservice to the narrative, as one frequently needs to flip back for reference.

Further, the wrap up of characters with plot is hurried and feels inconsistent with the in-depth story line and pacing that preceded it. Still, I’m curious to find out what’s next for likeable Jack Minyard.

Tyler Gabrysh ( is a writer living in Victoria.