CLUBHOUSE: Review: Tales For Late Night Bonfires by G.A. Grisenthwaite

OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.


Publisher: Freehand Books, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, 2023.

Editor: Jamie Tennant

Book design: Natalie Olsen

Note: All stories by G.A. Grisenthwaite

Splatter Pattern


Is truth the same thing as reality, or are they absolute opposites?


Me-Who-Looks-At-Me has a lot to say on the matter. The neighbours, not so much. On the surface, an old story: abusive father, autistic son, imaginary friend-not-friend “Me-Who-Looks-At Me,” a rifle, cops who despise “dirty little Indian,” same old same old, what else is new?

This and all the other stories are tales told by First Nation individuals whose patterns of thought and language reflect the reality in which they live. Which is to say, their situational awareness of all that passes for “normal” is a tad different from what other people take for granted. Not that they think differently, it’s more a case of having a unique approach to topics not normally on the radar of other ethnic groups.

For example, First Nations people tend to live up to the stereotype of being “stoical.” Nothing odd about this. When you live a life of bullshit coming at you from so many directions, the government, the media, public opinion, the cops, etc., you wind up shrugging it off because nothing surprises you anymore. You just get on with it.

Similarly, dark humour is a survival characteristic. If you can’t defeat the constant beat-you-down attitude of the public at large, you might as well laugh at them. Government bureaucracy alone offers multiple examples of ignorance, arrogance and outright stupidity enough to fuel a thousand stand-up comedians. It’s good to laugh.

In my lifetime I’ve known a number of First Nations people and all of them, without exception, have both demonstrated and emphasised that among the attributes of their culture are humour and practicality. Both traits are valued. Some have expressed their frustration to me that the average white man appears not to know this, doesn’t even suspect it to be true. Well, that’s their loss. Something else for First Nations to shrug off.

Of course, these are just my opinions based on my experience. In terms of this book, my impressions are irrelevant. What these stories offer the reader are tall tales told in the vivid but non-literary style of ordinary people shooting the breeze in a manner echoing their lifestyle and everything they happen to take for granted. The result is both refreshing and invigorating because it offers a perspective beyond the stereotypes, a perspective that for most readers, including myself, is undoubtedly unfamiliar, in impact unique and original. That alone makes this collection worth reading.

Ball lightnin


A little girl, a puppy, and ball lightning are not a good combination.


In my lifetime ball lightning has gone from a ridiculed myth to a well-studied phenomenon. As one scientist put it decades ago, “I never believed in ball lightning till one chased me around a mountainside for twenty minutes.”

In this story, based on an actual incident remembered by an elder, a tendency to take the unusual for granted and attempt to cope with it is well on display.



How do you love your wife when your car loves you at least as much as she does?


Chuckie was perpetually lucky. No matter how drunk he got, Hazel (his ’61 Impala SS) always drove him safely home. He and his car were good buddies. Trouble was Hazel shared Chuckie’s dislike for cops whenever they harassed him. Not easy to will a car to behave.

The incident of the deer roadkill presents problems. Interesting that both parties cite relevant treaties between the Crown and the particular First Nation to which Chuckie belongs. I had no idea diplomacy on this level was even necessary let alone common. Then Hazel has her “say.” Things get interesting quite quickly. Wish fulfillment fantasy? Definitely a tall tale.

Three Bucks


It’s hard to be a mighty hunter when your prey appears to be immortal.


What I like about this tale is that it is literally told by a bonfire on the grounds of a reservation farm. And, like all the other tales, told in “Rez” (reservation accent), which is a native American form of English with distinct speech patterns as unique as Cajun English or Ebonics (Afro-American English). It’s a new patois, developing during the late 19th and 20th centuries in reservation schools and off-reservation populations in cities as an instinctive attempt to preserve cultural points of view in a language being forced on the First Nations peoples. It’s not “bad” English. It’s First Nations English, a form of expression exclusive to the First Nations.

Further, the telling of the tale has no relation to the formal style of Homeric epic poetry which was the culmination of centuries of recounting what had been, in part, remnants of Mycenaean court bardic literature, itself the product of earlier centuries of evolution. No, Rez mythic tales are in a tradition much older than Western epics, a tradition going back many thousands of years all the way back to the very origins of storytelling.

In this case it is a tribal elder, name of Miracle Johnny, a Korean War veteran, sharing his best hunting story. Could be true, but only if certain white-tail deer are supernatural. Whatever, it’s a good story, which is all that matters. Each hunter is trying to top the other.

Then Alistair George has a go. He’s not so good at storytelling, never knows when to stop, or start for that matter. So, the bull session turns interactive. Alistair gets critiqued with every sentence, and especially for his word dragging to build suspense. Gets to the end and nobody believes him. All, being experienced hunters, cite numerous common-sense reasons why his tale is B.S. from beginning to end. Then he opens his barn door and shows them the proof. Turns out he’s a real good storyteller after all.

Yep, I figure mythic poetry has its origin in hunters boasting around an open campfire. Nothing succeeds like success, and I figure that accounts for all the cave paintings and petroglyphs back in the day. Pride in prowess, so to speak. Anthropologists undoubtedly disagree, and perhaps many a shaman. But, for me, all myth and legend has a very human origin, and success in hunting may well be the origin of a conscious sense of accomplishment from which all civilization springs.

Probably not true, but I like my theory. Hmm, could be a temporary-fad quick-buck book in there somewhere. Hmm… anyway, the Rez storytelling presented in this tale rings true and authentic to my ears, a glimpse of the origins of humanity’s most ancient tradition.

Little Trees


Is it possible to both disguise and exploit a supernatural being without hurting anyone’s feelings?


The supernatural being in question, a sc̓uwenáy̓tmx, is no surprise. Everybody on the reservation knows him as “Stew.” Quite a great “guy” actually, he gets along with everybody and they get along with him. Thing is, they’re short a worker at the tribal gas station and he’s keen to take the job. No problem, except tourists stopping by are liable to freak out, not to mention run to the police and wind up attracting the media in droves. Poor Stew would be disappointed to lose his job and go back into hiding. What to do?

Old Billy, the gas station owner, gets a great idea. It has to do with creating a distraction that so occupies the minds of tourists they don’t see through Stew’s disguise. In the process of coming up with this surefire solution the nature of Rez relations with outsiders is scrutinized with considerable humour, which is the whole point of the story. It amounts to a conspiracy theory made real, except that it can’t be real, so any suspicion of the true state of the situation would automatically be dismissed by outsiders, thus rendering Stew safe from discovery.

This suggests to me the story is a metaphor for reservation life in general. To a degree, everyone has to function as potential victims of a conspiracy theory maintained by many outsiders, i.e. the prejudices which underly routine oppression and mistreatment. In a sense, all First Nations people are like Stew, forced to blend into expectations of “normal” custom and behaviour as perceived by the majority if they want to be accepted. True, “normal” comes in many forms, which is why it is so damned odd that First Nations normal is so often singled out as too different to be acceptable. But then, to state the obvious, prejudice is never fair.

Yet this tale isn’t bitter. It’s a good example of shrugging things off and getting on with it in the most useful and advantageous way possible. How to defeat prejudice? Exploiting it with humour and profit is a good start.

Catching Farts


When you’re stuck babysitting your sister’s hyperactive kid, how do you keep him under control?


Pretty earthy humour in this tale, but then it accurately reflects the mentality of a four-year-old boy. Chuckie, one of the ongoing characters in this collection, comes up with a simple, impossible task that will keep the obsessed kid busy for hours. Good for tiring him out, too.

But there’s more to the tale than the task at hand. For one thing, it is a glimpse of what I would call an amateur approach to farming which proves that adults can be as fruitlessly obsessive as any kid. For another, hilarious insight into the influence of TV westerns on a First Nations child that is not quite in keeping with maintaining tradition and remembering the past accurately. I assume the story is based on the author’s own memories of the late ‘50s when westerns were ubiquitous on television over and above any other type of show. I, too, remember Chuck Connor from “The Rifleman,” and consequently find the kid’s take on Connor most chuckle-worthy.

Why despair over cultural intrusion when you can laugh at it? None of the stories in this collection are about being the victim of cultural clash. Rather they are tales of how to triumph over the threat. Which is indicative of just how vigorous and phoenix-like First Nations culture is today.

Snk̓y̓ép and his Shiny New Choker


What does trickster Coyote think of the world we made?


Ah, well, he sorta missed the making of it. Been asleep a long time. He’s up at last and singing his blue-sky song. But then he notes old sky seems sad. And he stumbles across a mountain he doesn’t remember making. And strangest of all, the Magpies and the Ravens seem to be in a tricksy mood more than he. What’s going on?

The old gods or supernatural beings responsible for creation and it’s interlocking functions don’t seem to have the instincts to deal with the artificial construct which mankind makes of the world. It’s hard to adapt when you don’t recognise the need to adapt. Even divine beings require a paradigm shift now and then if they are to cope with change sufficient to survive. Fortunately, the Magpies and Ravens, witnesses to the consequences of Man, strive to warn Coyote what he is up against. Will he listen? Will he learn?

This tale a fable of sorts, perhaps motivated by nostalgia for what was the natural order of things and fear over the deadening of nature. A wake-up call for everyone, not just Coyote.

The One About the Boy and the Grey Squirrel


Five-year-old boy keen on hunting. So, his dad gets him a 22-calibre pellet gun.


In hunting, in war, it’s all fun and games till you pull the trigger. Then you are confronted with the reality of the kill. The human brain is in an infinite source of rationalized justification. The only things which get in the way are empathy and emotion. Result? Nothing is simple.

When I was about six or seven I saw a woodchuck skittering across a field and I gave chase because I wanted to pet it. The poor thing fled into a cavity beneath a stump, a refuge so short there was barely room for its body. I bent down to look inside and it was pressed against the end of the hollow as much as it could, chittering and shaking with terror, its eyes wide with fear. I tried to calm it down with soothing murmurings but it began screaming. I didn’t know rodents could scream. I backed slowly away and ran home, feeling ashamed.

Ever since I have always felt empathy for and identified with the victims of violence, including hunted animals. I’ve never hunted. I don’t watch nature shows because I don’t like watching prey desperately fleeing or putting up a last-ditch fight only to be eaten. Yes, of course I know it is nature being nature. No, I don’t consider myself a hypocrite for not killing the meat I consume. I’ve read enough history to know we are merely the ultimate apex predator on this planet and our primary prey is each other. Still, I go out of my way to avoid stepping on ants on the sidewalk. I just don’t feel comfortable killing anything, so I won’t. Unless I have to, and there’s the rub.

On a reservation, traditional hunting is not only embedded in the culture, it’s often how you put food on the table. This is practical reality, and I appreciate that. Still, children vary in character, and a rite of passage which might be a breeze for some might be traumatic for others. All the same, given the culture and the lifestyle, not to mention the expense of food imported to reservations in the far north, being temperamentally opposed to hunting is potentially quite a handicap. Maybe even life threatening given certain circumstances, like a really bad winter.

This tale is fundamentally about a rite of passage. Up to the individual how they react. It’s just something every reservation kid, or country kid or farm kid inevitably has to confront and draw their own conclusions. Such is life. No getting around it. We all have to make decisions. I made mine and I’m comfortable with it. I hope everyone else is comfortable with theirs.

SPAM® Stew and the MALM Minimalist Bedroom Set from Ikea®


Who knew ghosts are attracted to SPAM® stew?


First of all, SPAM® stew is quite tasty, providing you follow the recipe (which is provided). There’s method in the madness. SPAM® is readily available in reservation stores. It’s easily transportable, for one thing. A case can last you quite a while. And if you are living on a reservation without electricity (very common in the old days) it means there’s no refrigeration available. Possibly you have salted meat hanging in a cabinet or a barn, but if you ran out of meat and/or salt, then what? Why, SPAM® of course.

The wider focus is reservation culture, with a focus on traditional healing for a near fatal bout of sickness. New to me is an emphasis on purifying not just the soul and physical body of the afflicted, but also the material goods (bed, sheets, pillows) associated with the suffering and pain. Best to rid oneself of all lingering negative influences. This explains the quick trip to Ikea to find replacements.

The core of the story is an exploration of spirituality. It makes sense that in time of need the ancestors draw near, particularly the recently deceased. How literally one takes the concept very much depends on a culture’s belief system. In this case, very literally indeed.

Note: Three more stories to go but I find myself mentally exhausted (happens often of late). Afraid I must stop here. I’ll give the basic premise of the remaining stories in the hope they intrigue you.

A Wager


That Chuckie lied when he claimed Mom was actually a black bear.

The Sunshine Rainbow Peace Ranch


Apparently based on the “what if?” idea of Jim Morrison founding a commune with 30 odd friends, albeit represented by a character named “Morris Jim.”

Gramps v The Real Santa™


An experimental horror story loosely based on the song “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”


To quote from the afterword:

“Gord is nłeʔkepmx, a member of the Lytton First Nation, and has earned an MA in English Literature & Creative Writing at the University of Windsor (2020). His first novel, Home Waltz, a finalist for the 2021 Governor General’s Award for fiction, is now available.

“His work has appeared in Prairie Fire, FreeFall, Exile Quarterly, The Antigonish Review, Our Stories Literary Journal, Prism International, ndnCountry, Offset 17, Bawaajigan: Stories of Power, and Food of My People. His work has earned a number of prizes, including the 2013 John Kenneth Galbraith Literary Award.”

Gord defines his stories as “interfusional,” which means a blending of both oral and written literary traditions. The oral traditions he learned from numerous elders and relatives growing up, as well as seeking out surviving remnants of same while doing research as an adult. Among writers he credits as influences he mentions Graham Green, Kinsella, Douglas Adams, Richard Brautigan, Grant Naylor, Tom Robbins, and Lewis Carroll. No wonder humour plays so important a role in his stories.

But what unites this collection is the level of spirituality which each story takes for granted. For someone as ignorant as I, it lends an otherworldly sparkle which I find excitingly original. Consequently, I find the stories delightful.

In addition, the rez manner of expression, which takes some getting used to, wins me over with its direct, to-the-point approach. Strikes me as a kind of prose poetry in fact. Epic in a minimalist way, you might say.

To call this fiction collection mythic fantasy is possibly a tad insulting to those who understand the spirituality involved, but as a label it does justify my reviewing it for Amazing Stories. And frankly, these stories really are amazing. Highly recommended.

Check it out at:  < Tales For Late Night Bonfires >





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