Kingsville author’s tale of a killing on the ‘rez’ among top stories in CBC competition

It’s all done purposely and mimics the speaking style and oral traditions of First Nations peoples across North America, Grisenthwaite said.

“It’s very deliberate, the spelling. It’s almost rez in its tone,” he said, referring to the slang term for a First Nation reserve. “Not every story I write has that (style) … I tend to write what the story demands.”

Grisenthwaite didn’t make the short list of five but was satisfied to advance so far into the literary competition. There were close to 3,000 submissions from across the country.

“I’m really pleased. I’ve been entering this contest since 2003 and haven’t gotten close to the long list,” he said.

Past winners of the CBC Short Story Prize include Michael Ondaatje, Budge Wilson, Janice Kulyk Keefer, Michael Winter and David Bergen.

Splatter Pattern is set on the reserve where Grisenthwaite grew up in the interior of British Columbia — although the setting is not revealed.

It tells the story of a young boy who kills his abusive father as the father is driving a pickup truck — at speed — toward him. The boy appears to be guided by a character called Me-Who-Looks-At-Me who hands the boy a gun.

Grisenthwaite said Me-Who-Looks-At-Me is not a Trickster, a common character in aboriginal folklore who can be an amusing buffoon, a source of wisdom and guidance — or a malevolent spirit. It’s a common character in many cultures. In Norse mythology there is Loki, the god of mischief.

Grisenthwaite said the two seemingly different characters in Splatter Pattern are actually one individual.

He said the abused boy is suffering from a split personality disorder.

“Often children who are severely abused develop at dissociative personality disorder (DPT) and if you want to look at it clinically, that’s what’s happening here.

“Spiritually, it’s not a creature like the Trickster figure, but it’s some kind of bad spirit that is imitating the boy and guiding him to make bad choices,” Grisenthwaite said.

He said the story is not a tale based on anything he has experienced personally, but a culmination of many stories about life on a reserve.

Grisenthwaite moved to Kingsville almost six years ago from British Columbia where he taught and worked as a graphic designer. He said his wife Susan supports his writing and his goal of becoming a full-time writer.

The 62-year-old has a number of writing credits and awards on his resume. He was a 2020 finalist for the National Magazine Award and the 2014 winner of John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Fiction for The Fine Art of Frying Eggs.

He has had several short stories published in the Antigonish Review, including Roadkill, How Mosquito Got Its Name and Salmon Song.A Poem About Coffee was published in a literary journal at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Grisenthwaite stressed every Indigenous experience is unique and his stories are based solely on his own life experiences.

“The stories I tell aren’t representative of those in Indian Country, they’re totally mine and from my perspective. I think it’s important that people understand that.”

He said Splatter Pattern will be part of collection of short stories he hopes to publish in the near future. The tentative title is Tales for Late Night Bonfires.

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