The award-winning author reviews her career and speaks about new novel, Trickster Drift
If you don’t know who Eden Robinson is, perhaps you’ve been living under a mountain of avocado toast. A member of the Haisla and Heilstuk First Nations, Eden is an award-winning Canadian writer. She is renowned for stories that flood the supernatural into modern settings — one minute, you’re reading about the lingering impacts of residential schools and intergenerational violence, and the next you’re meeting her shapeshifting were-otters.
“Well, in relative terms, I’m only mid-level dark [as a writer],” Eden tells me. “Some people are appalled by [my] treatment of serious topics in a less serious manner. And I think the humorists have a harder time in Canada than anybody else… because we seem to be suspicious of laughing. Canadians are very serious.”
With this reflection, her infamous room-filling laugh turns all the heads in the lounge toward us, and I too can’t help but laugh along. Eden’s style of humour is definitely reflective of the fact she shares her birthday with not just Edgar Allan Poe, but also Dolly Parton. And it provides the perfect foil for the darkness in her stories.
Eden is just starting another book launch tour, with the release of the second book in her Trickster trilogy. And although she’s is a well-seasoned writer with five books already published, she says this book definitely caught her off guard.
“I was surprised how fun [Trickster Drift] was to write. I was an evening writer. I used to write from 10pm – 2am, so the morning [writing] was the real surprise. Writing at 7am shut off a lot of my inhibitions and a lot of the self-censoring that I do in my own head. I wrote all the weird little things that I wouldn’t have written if I was fully awake.”
This change is just one of the ways in which Eden’s writing process has shifted over her career. The style of her first book, Trap Lines — which depicts narrators navigating relationships with their sociopathic and psychopathic partners — was very much a product of the tools at her disposal.
“My first computer was a little Mac, the square cube with a 3×4 screen, with a floppy drive in the front. Very second hand. Very finicky. When it started to die, I would have to save after every sentence. And then it would crash. Then I would have to reboot and while it was rebooting, I’d think of the next sentence. Trap Lines is very meticulous and very spare because I had no computing power.”
In spite of this,Trap Lines (1995) went on to win the Winifred Holtby Prize for best regional work in the Commonwealth. But as Eden acknowledges, technology wasn’t the only obstacle in her early days as a writer: the finite realities of time and money weighed on her too.
“I didn’t realize how much time I was spending freelancing until I stopped,” Eden tells me. “Once you take off that pressure, not having to worry about needing X amount [of money] for the year, once that was completely out of my mind, then I could focus on the craft.” Eden refers to the Writer’s Trust Prize, a prestigious $50K award which she received for the first book in the Trickster trilogy, as “a very big gift in my life.”
Trickster Drift, Eden’s new novel, is the second instalment in this trilogy. It follows Jared, the first book’s unforgettable high school protagonist, who sells marijuana cookies to support his family while his supernatural ancestry unfolds before him. In Trickster Drift, we follow Jared’s story as he moves from Kitamaat to East Vancouver. The novel features a ghost that fawns over Douglas Adams, Doctor Who references and a narrative that bears witness to how Jared reacts to a new environment, the reality of rental prices, and his struggles to break patterns and old addictions.
In this way, despite all of its supernatural elements, Trickster Drift continues Eden’s exploration of contemporary realities for Indigenous youth. Eden is no stranger to writing about the darkness that permeates the Canadian landscape, and this aspect of her work has held resonance beyond the world of literary accolades.
A case in point is Eden’s first novel, Monkey Beach (2000), which follows a teenage girl on a Haisla reserve looking for answers about her brother’s disappearance. The book is being adapted into a screenplay (filming is just wrapping up now), and has been integrated into the First Peoples English curriculum in schools across BC. “Some of my cousins have read it in Grade 10, 11, 12 and their first two years of university,” Eden tells me, before joking she’s worried that people only like it because they’ve been forced to read it so many times over.
Like a good doting authorial parent, Eden did not select a favourite of her published books, but Monkey Beach clearly holds a special place in her heart. “Monkey Beach is the one that has been sustaining me,” says Eden. “It’s like my Britney Spears!”
Trickster Drift is available now at bookstores and online across Canada.