Scratching River

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Pub Date 15 Apr 2022 | Archive Date 15 Jul 2022

Description

Scratching River weaves multiple stories and voices across time to explore the strengths and challenges of the ways in which Métis have created, and continue to create, home through a storied and mobile social geography that is always on the move.

The book foregrounds the story of a search for a home for Michelle Porter’s older brother, who holds dual diagnoses of schizophrenia and autism, and the abuse he endured at the rural Alberta group home that was supposed to care for him. Interspersed throughout are news clippings about the investigation into “The Ranch,” the home in question. Métis history is woven between the contemporary stories of the author, her brother, and her mother. As the pieces come together, the book uses the river as a metaphor to suggest that rather than a weakness, the ability to move and move again and to move on has enabled survival, healing, and ongoing reconciliation.

Scratching River weaves multiple stories and voices across time to explore the strengths and challenges of the ways in which Métis have created, and continue to create, home through a storied and...


Advance Praise

"Michelle Porter’s Scratching River is a stunning and ruminative poetic work of creative non-fiction that moves across time, geography, Métis history, and kinship. Porter honours her Métis family and ancestors through past, present, and future poetics. The interwoven narratives wrap around Porter’s mother, Porter’s own story as a daughter and sister, and her relationship with her older brother, who was diagnosed as schizophrenic and autistic, and abused in a rural Alberta group home. Scratching River illustrates the powerful journey of reconciliation, as Porter’s family reconnects amongst their ongoing movement, and relocation to find their way back to the river they share.

—Shannon Webb-Campbell, author of Lunar Tides and I Am a Body of Land

"Like her astonishing brother does in this book, Michelle Porter takes me by the hand and runs with me into a new world. I have never been here before. The sad and heroic stories which she braids together flood my heart and stretch my soul. I love this book. "

—Andy Jones (CM), actor and writer

"This book is a kind of prayer, a 'map in words' that navigates the treacherous, uncharted territory of our collective souls—a necessary exploration if we are ever to land safely, solidly, truthfully, on future shores. A triumph, Scratching River is proof that the healing power of narrative is a gift a writer can transmit to readers. " —Sheree Fitch, author of You Won't Always be This Sad and Kiss the Joy as it Flies

"This is a book on the move. It eddies through still-water ponds and tumbles over cataracts; it branches into ox-bows and branches again. One moment it speaks so quietly in your ear, and another, it breaks you apart. Scratching River is a wise and necessary work in these times in which we strive for reconciliation around contested readings of those words “home” and “land.” Braiding together varied voices and forms of attention into a deeply personal inquiry into place and belonging, Michelle Porter is making some of the most innovative and compelling creative nonfiction today. Scratching River is a magnificent achievement."

—Robert Finley, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador Creative Writing Program.

Michelle Porter’s Scratching River is both a reckoning and an elegy; a scathing, powerful roar against social injustice, the scars of trauma, climate crisis, environmental damage and, at the very same time, a love song to the power of family, Métis history, rivers, Bison, burdock, and the Métis storyteller and musician, Louis Goulet, who is her great-great-grandfather’s brother. Porter artfully braids together a portrait of her brother, Brendon Porter, who was horrifically brutalized in an institution for mentally disabled adults, with a rich understanding of the lives and habits of rivers, grassland, bison, and the threatened ecosystems of the prairies — to profound effect. Here also are wisdom and tenderness, stories full of dancing, hunting, travelling by ox-drawn cart, or Greyhound bus, and sleeping under the stars. Porter roves gracefully through the past, present, and future and proves herself a consummate writer for our times. Scratching River is a rare gift.

—Lisa Moore , author of Something for Everyone

"Gnarled and knotted, Scratching River is a bricolage of intimate memories, newspaper articles, investigative reports, a century-old memoir, and practical knowledge. It meanders and flows like an old river, burbling and rushing into a story of past and present, human and environment, colonialism and violence, justice and love."

—Sonja Boon, author of What the Oceans Remember

"In a single sentence, Michelle Porter lets us see her big brother and the river as one—the heart of the telling, tortured, forever in motion, compelling us to follow. This unity, swiftly as it is achieved, is the result of a life spent not just seeing but feeling everything on earth as part of a single being. This is a book of voices: human, animal, water, land, past, present, singing. This is a story of hard truths courageously told. We need it."

—Richard Harrison, author of On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood and Hockey Poems

"Michelle Porter’s Scratching River is a stunning and ruminative poetic work of creative non-fiction that moves across time, geography, Métis history, and kinship. Porter honours her Métis family and...


Available Editions

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ISBN 9781771125444
PRICE $19.99 (USD)

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Featured Reviews

Scratching River weaves multiple stories and voices across time to explore the strengths and challenges of the ways in which Métis have created, and continue to create, home through a storied and mobile social geography that is always on the move. This book is emotional but well worth it.

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In a poetic and unconventional work of narrative nonfiction, Métis author Michelle Porter uses several different threads of story and style in Scratching River to braid together meaning from the history of her immediate family, her ancestors, and the entire Métis people. Primarily centered on Porter’s older brother Brendon — and the personal trauma that the author suffered when she, as a teenager, learned of the abuse Brendon was experiencing at a group home — Porter hearkens to the vanished landscape that her people so closely identified with to claim for them the tenacity of the gratchias, the adaptability of a rerouted river, and the strength of prairie bison. This is such a personal story, told in an engagingly provocative manner, that “rating” it feels meaningless: this is a perfect manifestation of its intent.

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thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book.

This book was not an easy one to read, it deals with very heavy and emotionally difficult topics. However, I am so happy that I read this book! I read a lot of poetry and so I always gravitate towards books written with poetic flair. Michelle Porter’s words are lyrical, haunting, and extremely moving! I appreciate how effortlessly she can interweave abstract observations, emotions, and thoughts with historical accounts. I enjoyed the formatting of the book as well- it added a lot to the aura of the novel and suited the text well.

Métis culture, history, and ways of life are I front and center in this novel. I found the recurring motif of rivers and burdock root to be particularly moving- especially the emphasis on naming and renaming. I thought the inclusion of newspaper-esque announcements about the investigation into her brother’s group home was a good choice. It allowed the author’s voice to stay more abstract and poetic while still moving the narrative along.

A few other things I loved: the title! and the gorgeous cover! What a beautiful book!

I’m excited for this book to be published and I will definitely consider purchasing a physical copy for myself.

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Scratching River was a challenging read, not only due to the difficult subject matter it tackles, but also the unique structure through it is presented. In the end, the format of storytelling made much more sense to me, but throughout it was a bit jarring to move so quickly between different topics. When I was getting very invested and wanted more, there was an abrupt cut to the other part of the story being told. I respect the author’s intent and I think it’s quite brilliant in retrospect, but it just made the reading experience more difficult personally.
Handling a story of abuse towards a person diagnosed with schizophrenia and autism witnessed first hand is difficult, it’s uncomfortable and it is important. What goes on in institutions that take care of people that can’t speak for themselves must be scrutinized and I think this work brings awareness to this issue extremely effectively.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the parts detailing the Métis people history, I learned so much and I am interested in researching more. As well as the matter of the impact colonization had in the ecosystems.
Thank you so much to NetGalley for providing me with a digital arc for this book!

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