By Kevin Patterson
(Nan A. Talese, Hardcover, 9780385520744, 400pp.)
Publication Date: August 7, 2007
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In Rankin Inlet, a small town bordering the Arctic Ocean, the lives of the Inuit are gradually changing. The caribou and seals are no longer plentiful, and Western commerce has come to the community through a proposed diamond mine. Victoria Robertson wakes to a violent storm, her three children stirring in the dark. Her father, Emo, a legendary hunter who has come in off the land to work in a mine, checks to see if the family is all right. So does her Inuit lover, as Victoria’s British husband is away on business.
Thus the reader enters into the modern contradictions of the Arctic—walrus meat and convenience food, midnight sun and 24-hour satellite TV, dog teams and diamond mines—and into the heart of Victoria's internal exile. Born on the tundra in the 1950s, Victoria knows nothing but the nomadic life of the Inuit until, at the age of ten, she is diagnosed with tuberculosis and evacuated to a southern sanitarium. When she returns home six years later, she finds a radically different world, where the traditionally rootless tribes have uneasily congregated in small communities. And Victoria has become a stranger to her family and her culture.
Victoria compounds her marginalization by marrying a non-Inuit, Robertson, the manager of the town store. Over the years, as her children gravitate toward the pop culture of the mainland, and as her husband aggressively exploits the economic opportunities that the Arctic offers, Victoria feels torn between her family and her ancestors, between the communal life of the North and the material life of the “South.” Through Victoria, Kevin Patterson deftly exposes the costs and consequences of cultural assimilation, and the emotional toll that such significant lifestyle changes take on communities.
Spanning countries, generations, and cultures, Consumption is an epic novel of the Arctic, and a penetrating portrait of generational division and cultural dissonance.
KEVIN PATTERSON is the author of the memoir The Water In Between, which was a New York Times Notable Book. Country of Cold, his short fiction collection, won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, as well as the inaugural City of Victoria Butler Book Prize. He lives on Saltspring Island, Canada.
“Because of his unique experience in the north, where he practiced as a physician, because of his elegant style and compassionate vision, Patterson has created a remarkably compelling novel. His insight into the human condition pulls us to the heart of events.”
“In this powerful first novel, Patterson delivers a searingly visceral message about love, loss and dislocation.”
–Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Patterson has mastered the most difficult trick of the sorcerer/writer–engaging the heart as well as the mind in the service of a greater truth.”
–The New Orleans Times-Picayune
“Patterson is a sure guide through inhospitable terrain, be it the ‘elastic, almost infinite emptiness’ of the tundra or the far recesses of the soul.”
–The New Yorker
“Patterson is an empathetic observer of wrenching cultural change and so-called progress. ‘A-’ ”
“The ‘set-pieces’ in Consumption are the very finest physician’s writings I have read in ages. I am thinking of the chapter on fingernails, the butchering of the seal, and the surgery for tuberculosis as performed on Victoria.”
–Richard Selzer, author of Mortal Lessons and Confesisons of a Knife
“Put Kevin Patterson’s debut novel, Consumption, right at the top of your must-read list. This book is a staggeringly beautiful elegy for the traditional life of the Inuit, showing the inevitable loss when cultures collide . . . Consumption is not only a beautiful novel, but also an important one. Few people are in Patterson’s position of knowledge and experience, and so readers are given a special opportunity to learn about the Inuit, the changes in their lives, and what those changes suggest for human beings in general.”
— Edmonton Journal
“In this powerful first novel . . . Patterson seamlessly works murder, sex, and intrigue into the mix and offers a terrific cast that makes arctic life, and the ties of kin, palpable. He delivers a searingly visceral message about love, loss, and dislocation.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[The novel’s] thematic resonance, along with an understated humanism reminiscent of Anton Chekhov (incidentally, another physician), make Consumption a quietly devastating novel.”
— Vancouver Sun
“This is a dynamite first novel from Patterson. His broad life experience evidences itself on every page of this ambitious and tough-minded book.
— Winnipeg Free Press