Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Waubgeshig Rice is one of the few modern authors with the benefit of having first-hand knowledge and experience of life as a member of the First Nations in Canada, something he sought to share with the world through his second published novel, titled Moon of the Crusted Snow. It tells the story of a small northern Anishinaabe community which finds itself completely cut off from the outside world because of an apocalyptic event, having no one but themselves to count on for survival in an unforgiving icy wasteland.
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Waubgeshig Rice Isolates a Small Community
We’ve been preoccupied with the idea of the apocalypse long before we’ve had the ability to wreck the entire planet by our own hands, and many authors have dedicated their efforts to imagining all the different scenarios the event could entail. Whereas many writers seem to show a preference for describing the annihilation of the planet on a larger scale, Waubeghsig Rice places his focus on a small community in his post-apocalyptic novel titled Moon of the Crusted Snow.
The story introduces us to Evan Whitesky and his family, living in a remote northern Anishinaabe community in Northern Ontario, preparing for the long and harsh winter ahead of them. Suddenly, the entire community goes dark, with neither power nor communications working anymore. No food, water, nor medicine is coming in, and the community is effectively cut off from the outside world.
Conditions worsen by the day as supplies dwindle while sickness and unrest keep on mounting. As the months pass one after the other, the chaos only keeps on mounting, with the leaders having more and more trouble keeping everyone reigned in. A schism is imminent, and with logic dictating the onset of some sort of worldwide apocalyptic event, it might spell doom for some of the few, if not the sole human survivors.
A group of young friends and their families have decided to band together in hopes of restoring the Anishinaabe traditions, turning to them in a time of great desperation. Unlikely as it might have seemed, Evan Whitesky ends up being a leader figure for this group of dissidents, and together they vow to restore order, or at least as much as it can be, given the circumstances.
Grappling with many difficult decisions, Evan will have to navigate the complex world the small community has turned into, managing people, resources, and essentially leading a dance where a misstep might spell doom for everyone. As one society collapses, a new one is born to take its place, but is it inherently better?
The Loss of Regular Meaning in Moon of the Crusted Snow
Whereas most authors of novels dealing with the apocalypse tend to place a noticeable share of their focus on describing and examining the world-ending event itself, Waubgeshig Rice takes the polar opposite in his novel. He never really delves into it, simply using it as a device to cut the community off from the rest of the world and to place his characters in a setting where they have to contend with the idea of a possible apocalypse having already taken place.
This take on the subject felt rather refreshing to my taste, especially since it actually depicts quite realistically how many people would experience the kind of world-ending event which doesn’t outright destroy everything. Survivors in isolated communities would likely face such a scenario, having to anxiously cope with the unknown for months, if not years on end.
Waubgeshig Rice shows his talent when it comes to dragging the reader into the story and to make them feel the atmosphere he’s trying to create, rather than simply picturing it. Our senses of time and location gradually fade away as the characters we’re following experience the same thing, naturally immersing us in their lives and fates.
Much of Moon of the Crusted Snow is dedicated to the depiction of life and the way it changes under such dramatic circumstances. It’s fairly apparent the author has a good grasp on human psychology, carefully explaining the changes in peoples’ thought processes in convincing fashion. He often turned my attention to details which I would have likely overlooked, where I to imagine this story in his stead.
I think especially-fascinating was the gradual shift in morals, values, and the meaning of various concepts. We see how people’s immediate needs and fears shape what they hold dear, how they alternate their perception of the present, how they dictate their relationships with their peers, and ultimately, how they come to define human beings.
Evan’s Meticulous Life
Though a good deal of focus is placed on the community as a whole (one might even say as a singular organism), Waubgeshig Rice does primarily focus on Evan Whitesky and his family, for all intents and purposes, our protagonist for this journey. As you might expect at this point, we get to become quite intimately familiar with virtually every side of him as a person.
For instance, whenever he is at work doing something we are always taken along for the ride as he carefully does the job the way it’s meant to be. We see him preparing moose meat, scraping hides, preparing fuel, and as the situation becomes increasingly dire, he also takes on responsibilities beyond his level of education, such as medical care. As we watch him perform these tasks in his own, particular way, we are also given a window into his psyche, making him feel that much more realistic.
As pragmatic and careful of a person as he is, Evan is also human, and we witness him going through a number of trials on his way to raising a new society while the old one collapses before his very eyes. His path isn’t an easy one, and the connection the author allowed me to form with him made me truly empathize and root for him and his family.
Moon of the Crusted Snow does have its fair share of heartwarming moments, but I think it goes without saying there are some heftier passages which naturally cannot be avoided. We follow Evan as he deals with some of the more wrathful and violent elements which arise in a situation such as his, but nothing is ever gratuitous or unnecessary. The author treats death and brutality with the respect and consideration such themes deserve.
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Finally, Waubgeshig Rice also takes the opportunity to impart on us some of his knowledge on the Anishinaabe people, something he’s in a great position to do, considering he is one of them. He is very reasonable with his implementation of facts, peppering them through the story and educating us while moving the plot forward. Additionally, he even finds a natural way of introducing the Anishinaabe traditions as a central element in the story, something few others could accomplish without making it feel forced or artificial.
The Final Verdict
Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice is a fantastic post-apocalyptic drama examining an isolated little community dealing with an unknown apocalypse while mixing in an insightful excursion into the realm of the Anishinaabe people. If you enjoy stories centred on small numbers of people dealing with an apocalypse on a local level, and are interested in Native American traditions, then this is without a doubt the perfect novel for your tastes.
Yes, apocalypse. We’ve had that over and over. But we always survived. We’re still here. And we’ll still be here, even if the power and the radios don’t come back on and we never see any white people again.― Waubgeshig Rice, Moon of the Crusted Snow
Waubgeshig Rice is a Native Canadian Anishinaabe journalist and writer from the Wasauksing First Nation near Ontario. He began his career as a published author in 2011 with his short story collection Midnight Sweatlodge, and his first novel came out three years later, titled Legacy. In 2018 he published his second novel, Moon of the Crusted Snow, a post-apocalyptic drama taking place in a small Anishinaabe community.