This Town Sleeps

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 01 Mar 2020

Member Reviews

While I think there is promise in Dennis Staples as an author, this debut fell short of my expectations. In his praiseworthy blurb, Tommy Orange describes it as a quilt. It is rather patched together. Perhaps Staples had too many ambitions for his first book and poured them all into one. What resulted is an at times incoherent story of a gay man struggling with his tenuous relationship to his hometown on the rez and its inhabitants. Had the pieces been sewn together a bit more skillfully, this could have been a powerful book, but it's too full of holes.
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I sort of read This Town Sleeps with Brokeback Mountain in mind.  I could see some similarities.  But while BM shattered my heart, TTS was way more gentle and, but might not stay in my heart as long.  Don't get me wrong, it's a good book.  I liked the beginning immediately.  How these two men, one gay, one claiming he's straight, found each other.  It seemed very organic and believable.  I loved all the characters, even as flawed as some were.  There's even a dog that I instantly wanted as my own.  I give this one 3 out of 5 stars, only because it's probably won't be particularly memorable to me.  A year of six months from now, I'll have moved on.  But yes, you should still check it out.  

This Town Sleeps publishes on 3.3.2020.

3/5 Stars
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A grit, beauty, magic, and mystery combine.
Ojibwe author Dennis Staples explores the ways culture, family, and location have shaped generations of residents of an Ojibwe reservation in Northern Minnesota. Marion Lafournier, finds himself back home in a small town and in a relationship with a closeted white man. He’s also somehow tied to a spirit dog who points him in the direction of the grave of Kayden Kelliher—a high school basketball star he barely knew before the young man was murdered twelve years before. The mystery and relationship allow Staples to explore the complexities of the community—through storytelling, flashbacks, and more. He packs this short novel story with so much to think about it.
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I thought this was a beautiful novel. When I found out it was a debut, I was even more impressed.

Dennis E. Staples is an Ojibwe author and I already know that I look forward to a continuing voice from him. There is a lovely blend of traditional and contemporary voices in this book.

The main character, Marion is a young, gay Ojibwe man. It's clear from the beginning of the novel that he is a bit lost about where he belongs. Marion left the reservation when he was young, then returned to live in a town that was close after leaving a relationship. Some of his family is very traditional and throughout the story, Marion struggles with what he believes. There are very beautiful moments when he seems on the path back towards his spiritual roots, and then there are times when he seems almost hopeless.

The writing is beautiful. It's often so poetic that I could have read far more of it. Staples has a great style. The tale unfurls as the novel progresses, and more people are brought into the tale. I did find the multiple POVs a little confusing at times; there were a few times when I wasn't quite sure which character I was reading about. But, Staples' writing style more than made up for my minor confusion.

I really enjoyed the infusions of the Ojibwe tradition throughout this story. In a way there's a very traditional story... almost mythical, being told at the same time as there's a modern tale.

Marion has become reacquainted with an old friend from high school. Things are different when they meet again. Marion is an out gay man and Shannon - is closeted and suffering under a childhood filled with toxic masculinity and homophobia. When they meet over a hook-up app they enter into a relationship of sorts. Marion seems to accept it's the way his life will be and Shannon is so busy trying to hide who he is that he's terrified.

As the two men struggle with their differences Marion enters onto a spiritual journey of sorts. One night he seems to bring a dead dog to life and it leads him to the burial place of another friend he grew up with.

This book has a component of mystery in it, an introduction to some Ojibwe traditions and a relationship story.
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Thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

There is some good stuff here. The relationship between the protagonist and his closeted counterpart was fairly well-portrayed. I liked the setting and the premise had a lot of potential. Unfortunately the writing fell short. The story was very disjointed and confusing. Often I would find myself going back over paragraphs to see if I’d missed something, but nope. It was just the abrupt segues (or lack thereof), unannounced changes in point of view, and time jumps that left me confused. I feel like with some hardcore quality editing, this book could be amazing. It’s just not there yet.
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In this novel, a Native American man grapples with his lovers' inabilities to come out of the closet, the traumatic past of his small town, and his sense of self. The author focuses on two threads: the protagonist's relationship with a closeted former high-school classmate, which the protagonist mostly accepts with a wry resignation; and the lingering presence of a young man killed as a teenager and the son born after his death. While the themes are strong ones, the novel is chaotic in its narrative, and this disorganization meant that certain characters and events appear and disappear in the book without resolution or meaning. A developmental edit could turn this into a truly stellar novel, but as it is, there's not enough structure or clarity for it to really make a good impression.
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Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for a  opy of this book. The story gives a detailed insight look at the culture and race of the main characters / narratives. It kept me reading although part of the chapters I thought a bit long. But altogether readers will not be disappointed.
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Books by native American authors about their interconnected experience in today's world are always revelatory, and this one maybe more than most.   Dennis Staples recounts the story of Marion Lafournier, who is out and at ease in his skin but searching for love on the internet.  When an old still closeted classmate appears for a date, old rumors and family histories come to light.  Set on and near an Obijwe reservation in Minnesota, tribal traditions clash with modern day challenges, and Marion follows spirits to answer mysteries and reach his own redemption.  Beautifully told and skillfully executed, this introduces a writer of promise.
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I so, so enjoyed this beautifully written, unique little novel about life on the Ojibwe reservation in Minnesota. It’s a mystery, a history, and a little bit of a love story, wrapped into one quiet, pensive book. The main character, Marion Lafournier, is a young gay Ojibwe man, not quite in touch with his Indian roots, but still wanting to live nearby the rez. Marion goes on a little journey of self-discovering, learning about his town’s past, his tribe, his culture, in small, meaningful ways. The perspective rotates constantly, giving you context, short picture-in-picture stories that resonate deeply in just a few paragraphs. As much as this book is a narrative about Marion, it is also a book about struggles on Indian reservations: alcoholism, drugs, gangs, isolation, unemployment, and an inability to move. 

In the beginning, Marion starts a casual, secret relationship with Shannon Harstad, a deeply closeted white man from their shared rez-adjacent hometown of Geshig. While navigating the struggles of being in a relationship with a man who has internalized his homophobia so thoroughly, Marion stumbles upon a mystery. There’s was a legend while Marion was growing up in Geshig that a dog died underneath a merry-go-round in a kids’ playground, and no one would go near it. Now, years and years later, Marion decides to go for a spin on the merry-go-round - and suddenly, he resurrects the dog of legend. He feels deeply that it must be connected to the spirit of Kayden Kelliher, a young Ojibwe man who was murdered by a fellow classmate in high school. Marion goes on a journey to find out what really happened to Kayden, in the end discovering much more than he intended. 

Although this book is a fast read, the pages will stay with you for a long time. The writing is haunting, beautiful, at times more poetic than prose. If you’re unfamiliar with Indian culture and only know stereotypes and older history, this is a fascinating look at what life is like on many reservations - for young people and families, in the present day. It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s one that should be read. Staples layers in other complex elements to this already detailed story: being a semi-openly gay man, navigating levels of engagement with Indian culture, gangs on Indian reservations, etc. He is a brilliant new voice in the genre and I’m very much looking forward to what he does next. I highly, highly recommend picking up this beautiful book. Thank you to Counterpoint for the ARC via Netgalley.
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Wow- this is a powerful book.  It follows the path of Marion, a gay Ojibwe man, living outside of the small Minnesota town where he grew up.  It is about love, death, ghosts, parenthood, alcoholism, murder, rezdogs and ultimately, how to find oneself.  Staples writes the book almost as a dream, with characters drifting in and out, moving between past and present.  THIS TOWN SLEEPS catches you and holds you in its thrall until the very last page.  I started reading it at a restaurant while I was waiting for someone and after our meal, I had to go right home and finish the whole thing (which screwed up my day in the most wonderful way).  Staples writes with such empathy for his characters, and they feel so real that i know I will think of them often in days to come.  Staples is an amazing talent and I can hardly wait to read what he writes next.  READ IT!
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I had a hard time getting into this book, finding the multiple perspectives hard to follow (it may be easier in print and/or final form); the gay sex is also quite graphic, so I would NOT recommend this book for young readers.  Also, it may have been hard for me to relate to a main character returning to a small town after college.  That being said, I did finish the book.  I thoroughly enjoyed the blending of Ojbwe mythology with the struggles of living in a small town with individuals with everyday problems.
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Reviewed for Out in Print

Part ghost story, part multi-generational family saga, Dennis E. Staples’ This Town Sleeps is an impressive debut that explores the human struggle between hope and despair in a modern indigenous community.

Marion Lafournier is a young bookkeeper of Ojibwe descent who lives alone in northeastern Minnesota. Cynical and alienated, he’s the product of an isolated, economically depressed “rez” town Geshig and one of very few openly gay men in a lonely, rural landscape. While searching for a path to companionship that might extend beyond roadside, middle-of-the-night sexual affairs with closeted married men, Marion becomes entangled in two intrigues.

The first is personal. A Grindr “date” turns out to be a former high school classmate Shannon, who vehemently denies his gayness but displays chinks of affection during a late-night rendezvous. The second is more expansive. At a school playground, Marion discovers a dog of childhood legend that leads him to the gravesite of a promising high school basketball player Kayden Kelliher who was stabbed to death by a gang member. Marion was too young to know much about Kayden and his murderer Jared, but Kayden’s name triggers memories of rumors and a restless schoolmate Amos whose brother was in the older boys’ social circle.

From there, the story becomes a history of the men and women who survived the community trauma, alternating with Marion’s journey. Jared, Kayden and the mothers of all three boys enter the narrative to tell their stories leading up to Kayden’s death. But the exact circumstances of the murder are left ambiguous, too awful to speak of, suggesting hidden truths buried beneath a collective shame.

Secrets within Marion’s family also unravel when Marion seeks guidance about the revenant dog from his mother Hazel and her new husband Anni. That spiritual encounter may be linked to a supposed family curse originating from the murder of a white man by Marion’s great-grandmother. A “forest woman” called Bullhead, his great-grandmother is an emblem of the family’s Native identity and the fierce nature of their women. After killing a man who tried to force her into marriage, she allegedly carved out his jaw and preserved it for some mysterious purpose.

Staples brings the reader into a world of rich spiritual beliefs and practices while his storytelling also contextualizes Ojibwe identity. Marion’s stepfather Anni is a traditionalist who keeps a sweat lodge, brews elixirs, and takes Marion’s otherworldly encounter at face value. For young men of Marion’s generation, acculturation to the white, non-rez community has imparted a sense of skepticism about things like ghosts and visions. Returning to the rez and eating the traditional foods of his childhood conjures a mixture of feelings. The rez represents poverty, broken homes, boys recruited into violent gangs, and children already addicted to pot and alcohol. People joke about Geshig as a place no one ever escapes. It’s the reason Marion lives miles away and hooks up primarily with white guys like Shannon.

Honest storytelling makes for high impact reading, and with This Town Sleeps, Staples bares body and soul in sharing Ojibwe realities. One cannot help feeling the pain and sadness of everyone concerned with the central tragedy of Kayden Kelliher. They are all caught up in a cycle of desperation, violence and grief. Kayden was one of many Ojibwe boys pulled under an insuperable tide of poverty and corruption. Still, without spoiling any revelations, Staples offers readers another essential truth: loss can lead to redemption and renewal when examined bravely.

Staples is experimental with narrative structure, breaking up scenes from Marion’s perspective with frequent change-ups of point-of-view, even introducing first-person passages toward the end. It’s a helpful way to bring in information about Kayden that Marion wouldn’t know. Moreover, it gives voice to varied members of the small town Ojibwe community and broadens that world.

A minor discontent is the scene shifts feel scattered at times and break connection to Marion’s experience. It’s a tough balance, and the shifts will work fine for some readers while occasionally frustrating others.

Taken as a whole, This Town Sleeps is an important work of literature that will surely please readers who enjoy #OwnVoices titles, Native stories, and dark mysteries in the vein of Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin.
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Definitely a title that will inspire discussion and a fascinating look at identity, culture, race, socioeconomic standing, sexuality, and so much more.  I loved how Staples was able to successfully interweave multiple narratives in order to provide readers with such introspective insight.  Additionally, don't let its length deceive you - just cresting over 200 pages there is A LOT to unpack here.  Highly recommend.
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This review is based on an ARC. 

While I generally liked the story and characters, and I appreciated how realistic it is, there were a few things that kept this book from a higher rating for me. The pacing is okay, but the viewpoints jumped around in a way that confused me at first. I eventually got used to it, but never comfortable really. There were a few times the text was, I assume, purposefully not aligned but I didn't really understand why. Page 132 was the one I noticed most. I couldn't figure out what it added to the story to have the text that way and it was really off-putting for me. I think with a few more edits it would be higher rated though!
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