A Multigenerational Tapestry with Mixed Results

The Grandmother Begins the Story is a rich multigenerational novel that explores the lives and heritage of a Métis family. This unusual and almost weird novel is told by a chorus of funny, wise, confused, and struggling characters, including five generations of women in an indigenous Canadian family. Even bison, grasslands, dogs, and a car chime in to tell their stories.

The characters include Mamé, who’s having trouble settling in the afterlife; her daughter Geneviève, who checks into rehab at age 81 after decades of alcoholism; Gen’s daughter Lucie, who is dying of cancer; and Carter, Geneviève’s great-granddaughter, who’s just discovering her Métis heritage after escaping an abusive adoptive mother. Their stories, past and present, overlap in an intergenerational sweep of families fractured by racism, poverty, misogyny, and substance abuse.

While the novel’s elements of magical realism sometimes work, they often do not. The brief chapters make the story seem choppy, and some readers might find the frequent shifts between time periods and characters challenging to follow. Personally, I couldn’t keep the characters straight and was uncomfortable with some of the language.

Michelle Porter’s debut novel is a thoughtful exploration of identity, heritage, and family, painting a vivid picture of Métis culture and history. However, the ensemble audio cast didn’t sound professional, and the many storylines felt too scattered. I wanted to like it more but found it lacking. 3 stars.

**Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a copy of this book. The opinions are my own.

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