Book Review: Village of the Small Houses by Ian Ferguson
Posted by Arlene Somerton Smith
Book Review: Village of the Small Houses: A Memoir of Sorts
by Ian Ferguson
Douglas & McIntyre, 2003
Funny, heartbreaking, mystical—this book is all that before you get to the half-way mark. You will laugh, your solar plexus will ache with empathy, and you will wonder at the mysteries of life.
It is the memoir, of sorts, of a white-man-made-Indian.
The story begins with a con artist on the lam, a car chase to a hospital, and thalidomide. It carries on through a surprising and troubled birth into rugged life in the third-poorest community in Canada. It concludes with poignant memories of a mother who inspired, a father who disappointed, and friends who walked troubled paths.
Two weeks ago I reviewed 419, the Giller Prize winning novel written by Ian Ferguson’s brother, Will. (He’s called Billy in this book.) Reading 419 reminded me of Ian’s book, which I had read years ago after I heard him speak at the Canadian Authors Association CanWrite! conference in Edmonton. His keynote speech at the CAA Literary Awards event had the audience laughing from the moment he stepped up to the microphone. His date for the night was his mother. After the awards ceremony, he joined a group of us at a local restaurant. In my journal from that time I wrote: “Ian Ferguson also is a genuine pleasure to be around. A funny guy and a decent human being through and through. You can feel the “decent human being” vibes emanating from him.”
You can feel decent human being vibes emanating from this book, too.
Ferguson might be decent, but he’s also mischievous, which makes this book darned entertaining; it received the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, after all. The finest moments come when Ferguson’s devilish urges collide with his innate goodness. He is one of six children in a family in Fort Vermilion, Alberta. Even though the family is poor, the house has no running water or electricity, and Ian often runs home from school to avoid a pummeling from a childhood enemy, he describes himself as “born lucky.” All things are relative, right?
“My grandfather says it doesn’t hurt to turn into an Indian. But he says it can hurt being an Indian.”
—Grandson of the Medicine Man
It’s a testament to Ferguson’s writing skill that this book was nominated for a medal for humour when the subject matter is sometimes anything but funny. Ferguson relates the adverse circumstances of First Nations people factually, and therefore most effectively. Never preachy or off-putting, he plainly, lovingly, humorously, and above all, respectfully, introduces us to the First Nations people who saved his life and heavily influenced his life. Ferguson’s close friend, Lloyd Loonskin, shows him the difference between being born lucky and being lucky to be born.
“. . . these are Indian kids. It doesn’t matter if you teach them or not. They don’t learn much.”
—White school administrator in Fort Vermilion
Like The Glass Castle, this memoir (of sorts) entertains even as it prompts readers to delve deeply into the human psyche.
I highly recommend it.
“This book is as honest as I could make it, but I haven’t let the facts get in the way of the story I was trying to tell. Nothing that follows is true, except for the parts that really happened.”
About Arlene Somerton SmithWriter, laughing thinker, miner of inspirational insights, sports fan, and community volunteer
Posted on April 24, 2013, in Book reviews, Books for the beach, Books I liked so much I bought them after I borrowed them, Books to read again and again, Non-fiction and tagged canadian authors association, CanWrite!, Douglas & McIntyre, First Nations, Humour, Ian Ferguson, Scotiabank Giller Prize, Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.