Book Review: Wrist


Wrist by Nathan Niigan Noodin Adler

Wrist is an Anishinaabe-inspired horror story that I picked up at the Ottawa Writersfest last year. One of the fun things about this book is that you’re never totally certain if the monsters are real. Adler keeps you guessing about whether this is playing out in the imagination of Church, the protagonist, even going so far as to include other characters who themselves don’t believe in the monsters. As Adler states:

[I]t will still devour you, even if you don’t believe. Things that are real don’t need you to believe in them, they’ll consume you just the same.

And as we learn that Church is the son of a Residential school survivor on one side, and a Holocaust survivor on the other, we begin to recognize that perhaps the true horror story being told is the evil of intergenerational trauma.

Even if it was just a delusion […], it was real in every sense that mattered.

What I like about this book is that it’s not over-edited, so the voice of the author shines through unobscured, almost as though he’s reading aloud to you in the oral tradition of the First Nations. In fact, he provides substantial Anishinaabemowin dialog and terminology throughout the book, giving mild language lessons to his readers. I enjoyed reading the Anishinaabek words aloud softly as I went along.

Another unique aspect is the scientific emphasis throughout the story. Adler firmly places Indigenous lore within a natural, scientific world, for example beautifully comparing the hunger of the wiindigo to a black hole. Not only does this make the book feel real, almost alive, in a living, breathing kind of way, but also serves as a nice counterpoint to how colonialist society tends to portray Indigenous culture as cliché and static (The Dead Indian*). Here we are given very much the opposite of that, with a cultural viewpoint that follows along with our evolving understanding of the universe.

Hunger is the central theme in this story, and Adler invites us to consider hunger as something abstract:

Often we are driven to eat to fill other hungers that can’t be filled with food…Loneliness, sadness, trauma.

Reading this book during a period of personal grief, had me relating to this. Even though hunger is pain, hunger should not be indulged too deeply, but neither should it be ignored. Excess in either direction will turn one into a monster. That is the warning delivered in Wrist. However hunger is also what makes us who we are.

Church is not always sure exactly who he is supposed to be, yet he’s proof that one can derive tremendous power and self-worth out of personal beliefs and life experiences, even if many of those are hard experiences. And proof that nobody should be underestimated.

The definition of “wrist” is given in a preface to the book, with a secondary definition being sleight-of-hand. So what sleight-of-hand is the author pulling with this novel Wrist? For me, it was filling my spirit with nature, language and appreciation for all that life has to offer.

This was a unique and very original book with many layers to unpack. I look forward to reading more of Adler’s work in the future!

*Dead Indian per Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian