Home » Book Reviews » Ragged Company ~ Reviewed by Annie Vigna

Ragged Company ~ Reviewed by Annie Vigna

Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Linkedin
Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese

Buy at Amazon.ca

Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese
Doubleday Canada, 2008
376pp.  $29.95
978-0-385-66156-0

Reviewed by Annie Vigna

Ragged Company is a novel about living and surviving on the street.

DYING COLD SUCKS. Trust me.  I know….It’s a rough business….So when they told me that they found three of us dead on the first night of the cold snap, I almost felt sorry.  Almost.  See, there’s only two ways you die on the street.  One is by being stupid.  The other’s called unlucky (pg. 18).

Through Digger, Wagamese goes on to explain the difference between being “stupid” and being “unlucky” by illustrating the circumstances of three characters, street people, who succumbed to the cold.   In doing so, he also offers an informal glossary of street terms, such as “rounder.”  Being a rounder’s just what it sounds like.  You go around and around the same old vicious fucking circle until you’ve seen and done and survived everything….[t]he street wears people, breaks them down, but a rounder wears the street (pg. 20).  If you’re a “rounder”, you’re also “hard-core,” and those who have permanent homes are collectively referred to as “Square Johns.”

Richard Wagamese knows of which he writes, having experienced street life because of alcoholism.   He is an Ojibway from the Wabaseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario.  He is a former Calgary Herald columnist, the 2007 recipient of the Canadian Authors Association Award for fiction, and a former National Newspaper Award-winning columnist.  Wagamese published two novels in the 1990s:  Keeper’n Me and A Quality of Light.  His autobiographical book, For Joshua, was published in 2002 and his most recent novel, Dream Wheels, was published in 2006.   One Native Life, a series of personal essays, was published in 2008.  Wagamese has also lectured and worked extensively in both radio and television news and documentary.  He lives outside Kamloops, B.C. with his partner, Debra.

Wagamese was celebrating his 53rd birthday on the day I met him at “Tuesday Talks,” at the Glenbow Museum during 2008 Wordfest.  Self-taught, with only a grade nine education, his eloquence fascinated me as he spoke candidly about his roots, abuse, abandonment, and about healing. The local library has been his formal classroom where he has learned from books, from music, and from films.

Ragged Company  is written from his reality but is not autobiographical.  His characters are four chronically homeless people—Amelia One Sky, known on the street as One For the Dead because of her habit of pouring onto the ground from a freshly opened bottle of booze one for the dead; Timber, street-named thus because of his reputed sudden collapse from booze; Double Dick—Richard Richard, pronounced by his English mother, Richard, and by his French father, Ree-shard; and Digger who digs for cans, bottles, metal, anything [he] can turn for cash (pg.20) All are hard-core rounders, who take refuge from the cold in the warmth of a movie theatre.

Here, they escape not only from the elements, but from reality, as they watch the films inside.  The excitement they feel upon entering the theatre is truly palpable.  The reader effortlessly tags along, in awe, viewing the world through the experiences of these rag-tag characters.  Although Timber says it, I, the reader, feel it.  I’m shocked.  Shocked by the sudden way the world you think you know can disappear on you (pg. 25).

Even after the weather improves, the foursome continues to go to the movies where, eventually, they meet Granite, a jaded and lonely journalist who has turned his back on writing …in favour of the escapist qualities of film (flyleaf).  Granite goes to movies because of the emptiness in his life.  He accepts and is accepted, and together these five set out on their journey that is both uplifting and painful.  As trust is established, these destitute friends are invited to view movies in Granite’s home.  Boundaries between the rounders and the Square John are removed through mutual acceptance.

Wagamese has organized Ragged Company into five separate narratives, and advances reflections on kinship, loyalty, and redemption.  The lone woman, One For the Dead, is honoured and respected, as is the custom in Aboriginal culture.  Her first narrative introduces the novel and, at 13 pages, is the longest.  Throughout the novel, she holds the Ragged family together with her compassion and spirituality.  Her “normal” becomes ours.  We’re not asked to judge.

With the author’s help, these four trusted friends transition from merely surviving day-to-day, looking after their current needs, to belonging to the world of Square Johns.   Suddenly they realize that their futures must be reconciled with their pasts.

Annie Vigna is a former bookstore owner. She lives in Calgary, Alberta.
Other reviews by Annie Vigna
The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb
Far to Go by Alison Pick
Key in Lock by Rona Altrows
Mennonites Don’t Dance by Darcie Friesen
Murder on the Bow by John Ballem 
Notes for Monday By Barb Howard
Red Dog Red Dog by Patrick Lane
Sex in Russia by Kenneth Radu
Snowdrift by Lisa McGonigle

 

Short URL: http://www.bookclubbuddy.com/?p=3297

4 Comments for “Ragged Company ~ Reviewed by Annie Vigna”

  1. [...] Dance by Darcie Friesen Murder on the Bow by John Ballem  Notes for Monday By Barb Howard Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese Red Dog Red Dog by Patrick Lane Sex in Russia by Kenneth Radu Snowdrift by Lisa [...]

  2. [...] Dance by Darcie Friesen Murder on the Bow by John Ballem  Notes for Monday By Barb Howard Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese Red Dog Red Dog by Patrick Lane Sex in Russia by Kenneth Radu Snowdrift by Lisa [...]

  3. [...] Key in Lock by Rona Altrows Murder on the Bow by John Ballem  Notes for Monday By Barb Howard Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese Sex in Russia by Kenneth Radu Snowdrift by Lisa McGonigle Red Dog Red Dog by Patrick [...]

  4. [...] Dance by Darcie Friesen Murder on the Bow by John Ballem  Notes for Monday By Barb Howard Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese Red Dog Red Dog by Patrick Lane Snowdrift by Lisa [...]

Leave a Reply

Intersecting Sets by Alice Major

FEATURED VIDEOS

TELL A FRIEND


SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

© 2013 Book Club Buddy. All Rights Reserved. - Privacy Policy - Log in - Designed by Gabfire Themes